Truckers and union representatives in BC are calling on the federal government to delay the Port of Vancouver’s plan to tighten environmental restrictions on container trucks starting next month.
The new rules mean that from February 1, semi-trucks older than 10 years old will no longer be allowed in Canada’s largest port, as the port relocates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Container trucks with engine and exhaust systems older than ten years will need to be modified or upgraded, otherwise drivers will be turned away.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do… I can’t afford a new truck or a used truck,” said driver Parminder Brar, who has been working at the port since 2018.
“Either you have to find a second job somewhere, or you can’t survive, you can’t feed your family.”
300 trucks could be out of circulation, union says
More than 80 percent of the trucks that use the port already comply with the new regime, according to the port.
As many as 1,800 trucks currently serve the port, meaning a 20 percent loss still takes more than 300 trucks off the route.
Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, said it will have an “immediate effect” on operations.
“We just got through the flooding and supply chain challenges,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Western Regional Director at Unifor.
“[The port] should think carefully about the livelihoods they affect and the innocent people who will be affected if they can’t get their goods on time or keep the businesses running at a critical time.”
The union is asking governments to pause the port’s “arbitrary” plan for another two years. McGarrigle warned truck drivers could strike and hamper the supply chain unless federal transportation minister Omar Alghabra intervenes.
“The rest of the truck drivers, quite frankly, won’t stand by as 20 percent of their colleagues are forced to leave because of this arbitrary and unreasonable demand,” McGarrigle said.
The United Truckers Association has also called on the port to postpone the rules. Replacing trucks is a “significant expense,” it wrote in a letter, and there is an “extreme shortage” of trucks that can be bought, even if drivers can afford one.
Brar’s truck is a 2015 model, so it wouldn’t be affected until 2025. Still, he can’t afford to replace him within that time, he said.
Regulations needed, says association
While the union claims the timing is unfair for truck drivers in a bruised economy, the BC Trucking Association said the rules are a necessary change in the works.
“Yes, it’s going to cost money. Yes, it’s going to be expensive. Yes, we’ll have to adapt, but we don’t have an option. We need to get a handle on our emissions profile,” association president David Earle told CBC.
“Operators, companies, independent operators have had years and in all cases at least many, many months to prepare for this change.”
According to a statement, the port first told the industry about its “10-year rolling truck age program” in 2015, according to a statement. Another warning came last June.
Earle said there are still trucks in North America that burn diesel with no emissions restrictions, like trucks did in the ’80s or ’90s.
“We have this problem where we have a whole range of the fleet driving vehicles that are heavy polluters that need to be replaced and moved … you have to draw a line and draw it in the sand and that’s what the Vancouver Port Authority did.”
He acknowledged that drivers will “absolutely” face fees and long waiting lists for brand new vehicles, but said there are used trucks on the market that fall within the port’s rules.
“You may not be able to get that brand new 2022 or 2023 truck you’ve been looking for, but you can definitely get something that will serve you for a few years until those things come online.”
The program includes an application process for waivers for older trucks that can meet modern emissions standards, but Unifor said the applications will snag truck drivers for hundreds of dollars in fees.
Retrofitting older trucks can cost between $10,000 and $20,000, Earle said.