The number of container truckers licensed to serve Port Metro Vancouver will be slashed and those who survive are being promised higher enforced pay as part of reforms to cement labour stability and avoid any new strike disrupting trade.
B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone said Wednesday the province will legislate rates for container truckers, retroactively, and indicated the current number of 2,000 licensed trucks could drop to about 1,500.
Too many trucks now chase too few loads, according to Port Metro Vancouver planning vice-president Peter Xotta, causing “intense competition” between firms, insufficient work for truckers and undercutting on agreed rates.
Reducing the number of licensed operators is expected to create a better balance.
A 28-day strike by container truckers last spring ended on government promises of a range of improvements, including minimum rates and compensation for long waits at terminals.
But unionized truckers had warned over the summer another strike was possible without enforcement of the rate floor to prevent undercutting by some trucking companies.
Truckers now licensed to haul containers in and out of container terminals will be invited by Port Metro Vancouver to apply for new licenses with mandatory performance bonds, damage deposits, driver sponsorship agreements and licence charges.
Port officials aren’t yet saying how they’ll decide who is in and who is out of the new licence system.
B.C. Trucking Association president and CEO Louise Yako said the new requirements aim to encourage responsible conduct and deter marginal operators who make the business more volatile.
“They want to set the financial barriers high enough that it reduces the likelihood that trucking companies are going to have a race to the bottom by reducing their rates and thereby reducing compensation to drivers,” Yako said.
Most BCTA members would much prefer unrestricted competition, she said.
But Yako said repeated strikes have spurred the senior governments to deviate from national policy and regulate for economic stability, not just safety and the environment.
“I think there is grudging acceptance that a free and competitive marketplace at this time is not feasible for the sector.”
The provincial and federal governments have also invested billions in port and transportation infrastructure in Metro Vancouver to assure reliable goods movement through the port, which handles 130 million tonnes of cargo a year.
How well the reforms work will ride heavily on the implementation of recommendations tabled by consultants Vince Ready and Corinn Bell, she said.
Not all trucking firms are expected to join the new system, which is to be up and running by Feb. 1.
Yako predicted pure drayage companies – that only haul from container terminals – will mostly seek new licences while many hybrid operators will voluntarily exit and shift their trucks to serve other business lines.
Trucking companies are being promised aid during the transition to the new system, which will include the creation of a new Container Trucking Commissioner to oversee future licensing.
Other reforms introduced this year have included night openings of terminals to cut congestion and installation of GPS units in all trucks to improve efficiency and record excessive waits.
Finding a viable fix for the industry has been complex, in part because of the variety of different union and non-union operations, some paid on varying hourly rates, while others are paid by trip.