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opinions John G. Smith

Fight the Good Fight: It turns out you can fight city hall, and should

Posted: May 3, 2017 by John G. Smith

If the signs are any indication, municipalities would rather find a way to live without trucks. No parking. No idling. No Jake brakes. No trucks on this street or that. It’s like we’re living in the midst of a song by the Five Man Electrical Band. Remember the lyrics? “Do this. Don’t do that. Can’t you read the sign?”

Like it or not, there will always be an uneasy truce between municipal politicians and the trucks that travel through a community. Our industry’s vehicles have to share their workplaces with the general public, and trucks will always appear big and loud when compared to the four wheelers around them.

Even longstanding corporate citizens can face the wrath of angry neighbors. Truck yards, shops, warehouses and truck stops may initially be established on the outskirts of town, but poor zoning practices often allow subdivisions to sprawl up next to them and leave little buffer in between. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before politicians begin fielding calls about “those damn trucks”.

It doesn’t take much to shatter the truce, either. The bark of an engine brake in the middle of the night can lead to an angry call about noise bylaws. A close call or collision in the wrong area leads people to think of every truck as a rolling menace. Scheduled courier deliveries are seen as barriers to smooth traffic flows. They all become convenient targets during municipal election campaigns as would-be councillors look for the so-called wedge issues that often define winning campaigns.

Do trucks provide a valuable service? “Sure,” most residents will respond. “Just not in my backyard.”

As frustrating as such fights can be, they all need to be taken seriously. Businesses are undeniably and important source of tax revenue and local jobs, but residents can be blind to that reality — and will usually represent more votes than their business-running counterparts. Leave a well-organized community activist unchallenged, and any number of restrictions could emerge.

Consider just two truck-related fights that are ongoing right now.

The municipal council in Thunder Bay, Ontario is returning to its decades-old debate about restrictive truck routes, and could ban heavy vehicles from thoroughfares including a section of Arthur Street. Do you know what else can be found just a little further down the road? Santorelli’s Truck Stop and its related 35 employees. What about them?

Travel southeast to Prescott, Ontario and you will find a community mayor who wants to ban all hazardous cargo from Highway 401 during stormy weather. It doesn’t seem to matter that the drivers of such trucks require an extra layer of training when compared to their peers, that the industry reports just one spill per 40,000 shipments, or that defining such “bad weather” would be virtually impossible.

The general public has to be protected, but freight also has to move. It is possible to strike a reasonable balance between the two goals, but we all have a role to play in ensuring that the trucking industry’s voice is always heard in related discussions. 

Get informed. Sign up. Get involved. And fight the good fight wherever it’s needed.

Your industry is depending on you.

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