How tolls could reduce truck traffic on our highways

Fred Langan
Newsworld Business News
June 12, 2000

Long live high gasoline prices if they will do the job of getting some trucks off the road! There are too many trucks clogging highways. And the rest of us are paying for them to be there as manufacturers use the highways as warehouses for just-in-time manufacturing on roads subsidised by income taxes.

Experts from both Transport 2000 and the Urban Renaissance Institute say highways are a form of government subsidy for the trucking industry. Road and gasoline taxes do not come close to paying for highways and the damage done to roads by trucks.

“Because of the weight and physics involved, the maintenance burden of trucks on the roads is to the fourth power greater than cars,” says a spokesperson for Transport 2000. The fourth power means 10x10x10x10. In other words, a fully loaded truck can do 10,000 times more damage to the highway than a car.

Railways are a better way to ship freight, but railways find it hard to compete with trucks since the railroads have to maintain their tracks and signals. Local politicians would rather rip up tracks and turn them into bicycle paths.

Just-in-time manufacturing is marvellous system that allows companies to do away with expensive warehouses. Parts arrive as they are needed. Several years ago The Economist said Toyota plants were so efficient that parts arrived seven minutes before they were used on the assembly line.

This has trucks racing down the highway facing a penalty if they are late. Combine this with slipshod maintenance by some trucking firms and is there any wonder trucks are involved in such horrendous accidents? The trucking industry defends itself with statistics of how few accidents trucks are in compared to the number of miles travelled. But that is a statistic that ignores a gruesome reality. When something as big a truck hits something the size of a car, it is going to be a mess.

“The physics involved means there is the potential for spectacular crashes,” says the Transport 2000 spokesperson. We saw one accident this month in which police cruisers parked on the side of the road were hit by transport truck. A police officer died. Imagine: a truck running into police cruisers with their flashers on.

This type of truck driving will not surprise anyone who travels on highways in Canada. About once a month I drive from Toronto to Quebec. The 401 is jammed with trucks. They drive at 120 kilometres an hour and race each other jamming the passing lane. In some European countries, Germany for example, trucks aren’t even allowed in the passing lane.

On one recent trip I flashed my lights at a truck that had been in the passing lane for 10 minutes or more. When I passed he feigned a swerve into my lane to pay me back for my cheek at asking him to move over. The police never catch this type of behaviour. They are too lazy and prefer speed trap, a simple-minded type of policing invented in the 1930’s. They do not catch reckless truckers, just the occasional speeder. In the dozens of years I have been travelling along the 401, I have never seen the police in Ontario or Quebec pull over a truck for speeding or reckless driving. Never.

There is a safer type of road. The toll road. From the time I started driving I used toll roads in Quebec. The Autoroute, first to the Laurentians, then to the Eastern Townships, was well-maintained and, because of the tolls, free of trucks. The Autoroutes had their own police force. At the Montreal end of the Eastern Townships Autoroute there was another toll bridge. It cost $1.25 to drive to where I wanted go and it was worth it. The tolls were taken off by short-sighted politicians and the old autoroutes are now jammed with trucks and riddled with damage which is paid for out of general taxes rather than tolls.

Making all highways toll roads would level the playing field between trucks and rail. It would encourage all kinds of energy-efficient behaviour, including discouraging people from long commutes. If you’re a believer in getting rid of greenhouse gases — I’m indifferent — toll roads do the job. But gasoline prices might do the same job if they stay up there long enough.

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