WINNIPEG, Man. – For a small fleet in rural Manitoba, transportation and trade go hand-in-hand.
Evan Erlandson, owner of E2 Trucking, underscored the impact cross-border trade has on his industry and individual business, which concentrates on hauling bulk freight between Manitoba and South Dakota.
“In my world, trade is transportation and transportation is trade,” said Erlandson. “Without one, we do not have the other.”
Erlandson spoke during the 23rd annual Fields on Wheels conference in Winnipeg today, painting a picture of what the day-to-day life of a truck driver entails, and saying the public had little knowledge of this reality.
“Truck drivers are a hardworking bunch for the most part, but that is not the public perception,” he said. “The public perception of truck drivers is not positive, and I’ll admit that it is self-inflicted, and it has to change.”
Breaking down his Monday to Friday schedule, Erlandson showed his driver covering 4,376 kms, with 47.4 hours of driving time, and an additional eight hours of on-duty time.
“In the trucking world, I’d venture to say this looks like a pretty nice schedule,” said Erlandson. “But if most of us are honest with ourselves, we probably wouldn’t sign up for this schedule. But that’s the reality.”
In addition to the common challenges any startup business would face, Erlandson highlighted some of the hurdles carriers like his must clear working in an industry with increasing rules and regulations.
Saying that every change in regulation results in a net loss of drivers, Erlandson pointed to the challenges he has faced with the implementation of ELDs and how stricter licensing and insurance protocols, though necessary, can work against efforts to ease the driver shortage.
“Ontario has made it very hard to insure a driver who has less than three years of driving experience,” Erlandson used as an example, adding how he has seen new drivers come into Manitoba seeking employment as a result. “I’m not sure that solves any problems, but it does cause problems for neighboring provinces.”
Addressing the need for a mandatory entry-level driver training (MELT) program in Manitoba, Erlandson said it is incredible what some drivers will do and it is beyond him how they acquire their Class 1 licence.
Manitoba’s minister of Infrastructure, Ron Schuler, also spoke during the conference, saying a MELT program was coming to the province “sooner rather than later.”
“It’s coming, and I thought I had it a couple of months ago, but I didn’t,” Schuler said, telling Truck West that the proposed piece of legislation is currently sitting on his desk.
The minister admitted that the Humboldt Broncos team bus tragedy was the catalyst for the push for MELT.
He also spoke passionately about the need for the ELD mandate in Canada.
Answering a question about e-logs, Erlandson admitted that in in the past, drivers and carriers would tweak paper logbooks to “stay alive,” a statement Schuler said was exactly why ELDs are needed.
“It’s coming and it’s necessary,” said Schuler, stressing the need to stop drivers from “cooking the books” to get ahead.
Another issue trucking companies face according to Erlandson is infrastructure, including roads and proper rest stops for drivers.
He said the primary reasons for choosing to run a north-south route into the U.S. was because of how well the roads are maintained south of the border and the high number of rest stops for his drivers.
Erlandson said the U.S. infrastructure system is “one of the wonders of the world,” as far as he is concerned, which saves his company in maintenance costs and improves the life of his drivers.
Schuler pointed out that in the U.S., specifically the Dakotas where E2 Trucking operates, they do not pay for a healthcare system as is the case in Manitoba, which affords them more funds to be put toward infrastructure.
Schuler did praise the transportation sector as a whole, saying, “We understand that you can have the best crop, the best product, but if you can’t get it to market, it has no value.”
Trade is an important cog in Manitoba’s economy, accounting for $35 billion, with approximately $5 billion coming from the agriculture sector, according to Schuler.
Fields on Wheels is hosted by the Canadian Transportation Research Forum, a non-profit association made up of transport professionals from a variety of backgrounds, including trucking companies and shippers.