Mandatory entry-level driver training (MELT) is coming to the trucking industry in Alberta, with an expected implementation date in January 2019.
Alberta’s minister of transportation, Brian Mason, made the announcement at the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) office in Calgary, saying in the wake of the tragedy involving a tractor-trailer and the Humboldt Broncos team bus, the need to address driver training was moved to the front burner.
“The horrible tragedy at Humboldt was the real impetus for today’s announcement,” said Mason. “The matters that we are working on today were matters that we were working on at that time, but clearly the terrible tragedy has focused everyone on the need to do even more to make sure that our highways and the trucking system are as safe as possible.”
Once implemented, anyone in Alberta looking to obtain a Class 1 or 2 licence, or an ‘S’ endorsement to operate a school bus, will be required to take entry-level training for commercial drivers.
Though the specifics of what the MELT program will look like in the way of on-road and off-road hours, in yard hours, and time in the classroom is yet to be determined, Mason said the Alberta government will be consulting with stakeholders, such as the AMTA, over the next month to iron out the details.
The Alberta government had been working on a MELT program since 2016, consulting with truck and bus stakeholders, as well as the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, where the first entry-level driver training program was implemented last summer.
Ontario’s MELT program requires a minimum of 103.5 hours of driver training, including 36.5 hours in the classroom, 17 hours in the yard for pre-trip inspections, 18 hours in the truck off-road, and 32 hours on-road.
The Alberta program will aim to enhance, regulate, and standardize a curriculum that will include skill-based in-class, in-yard, and in-vehicle training, as well as an improved Class 1 and 2 knowledge and road test.
“We’ll be consulting with stakeholders about what Alberta’s MELT program should look like,” said Mason. “We’ll be talking about the curriculum, the length of the training, and we’ll be examining the experience they’ve had in Ontario.”
Mason said the main focus is on Class 1 and 2 drivers, as they operate the largest vehicles on the road. He added that the industry in Alberta has been insufficiently regulated for some time and that the abuses in trucking and lack of oversight are quite striking.
Transportation minister Brian Mason announced three changes to Alberta’s trucking regulation in Calgary July 10, including the introduction of mandatory entry-level driver training.
In addition to the introduction of a MELT program, the government will also tighten the rules for new commercial carriers by removing the issuance of temporary safety fitness certificates. At present, new carriers can begin operations and be given a temporary safety fitness certificate while waiting for their official certificate to be granted.
“Alberta has been the only province to offer a 60-day temporary safety fitness certification for new commercial carriers prior to their passing the safety fitness requirements,” said Mason. “We are going to remove that temporary certificate.”
New carriers in Alberta will also be required to complete a mandatory course to gain a better understanding of how the rules work prior to commencing operations.
Mason said they are considering conducting mandatory compliance reviews for new carriers within nine to 12 months of their operations, as well as a review of carriers’ safety fitness certificates every three years to enhance industry oversight.
“This will effectively eliminate the chameleon carrier, where a new startup trucking company is put out of service for violations and then simply changes the name and reopens and continues to operate,” claimed Mason. “That has been a particular problem in Alberta. We’re the only province that issues these temporary safety certificates.”
Alberta’s road test model was the third area Mason said would be modified.
Through the use of a third-party, Alberta Transportation conducted a review of the province’s driver examination model, which underscored several issues, including road testing fees being the highest in Canada, a mistrust of the examination model by Albertans, and an overall flawed system.
There were also more than 40 investigations of impropriety identified in a 36-month period in the current privatized road testing model, some resulting in violations of the Traffic Safety Act and others in criminal charges.
Mason said to help remedy this mistrust, a move to restore driver examiners as government employees is being considered.
“We need to ensure that Alberta’s driver examination model is safe, transparent, and secure,” said Brian Malkinson, minister of Service Alberta, adding that registry agents will play a vital role. “They provide frontline services and jobs throughout the province. That’s why we need to consult and work with them on these proposed changes to ensure that Albertans can continue to access these services.”
The government will consult with stakeholders and the public for all three initiatives, with each expected to be implemented this coming January.
Chris Nash, president of the AMTA, pointed to work being done on Calgary’s ring road and Edmonton’s Anthony Henday as evidence that steps are being taken to improve the safe movement of goods in Alberta.
He also said the AMTA has long recognized the need for minimum standardized training.
“The AMTA puts safety above all when it comes to the transportation industry,” said Nash. “We believe minimum standard training is required for both new and existing commercial drivers and carriers to operate on Alberta’s roadways. We look forward to working with government to develop standard training in the transportation industry.”
Jeff Kasbrick, vice-president of government and stakeholder relations for the Alberta Motor Association, said driver training and regular re-training are critical for traffic safety.
“For commercial drivers, who spend significant time on our roads, as well as operating larger vehicles, we are pleased to see that a form of mandatory entry-level training on a common curriculum will be part of Alberta’s future mobility landscape,” said Kasbrick.
Mason said though he does not see a way the government could proceed with any of these measures on a retroactive basis, particularly when it comes to chameleon carriers, the intent is to establish a new set of requirements that will help make Alberta’s roads safer.
“Humboldt underlined the urgency of moving forward,” said Mason, “and we’re prepared to do that now.”