Port of Vancouver truckers threaten strike to oppose truck-age program

A group of truckers operating Port of Vancouver’s drayage fleet is threatening job action in a bid to stop a program mandating the retiring of older trucks due to higher pollution levels.

The United Truckers Association, a group that says it represents 800 to 1,000 individual owner-operators of trucks at the port, said Tuesday it was left with no choice but to hold the strike vote - which officials anticipate will pass due to what they describe as widespread support among the membership.

UTA spokesman Gagan Singh said his group feels the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority did not engage truckers and on how the Rolling Truck Age Program will move forward – which, as it stands, would bring “impending doom” to owner-operators who either cannot find a newer compliant truck or cannot afford the expenses of getting one.

“If they give answers to our questions, we will go back [to work],” said UTA spokesman Gagan Singh. “… We’ve been requesting since February, but they are not willing to listen to us. We don’t have any ways left.”

The port’s Rolling Truck Age Program - aimed at retiring trucks older than 12 model years to reduce the emissions from older vehicles - will launch this September. The program's original start date was to be Feb. 1, but port officials said it deferred implementation because of pushback from truckers, unions and other groups.

The delay in implementation was to engage truckers further as extreme weather in late 2021 put many owner-operators in a difficult financial position to make the switch to a newer truck. Greg Rogge, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s director of land operations, noted that the program’s September launch will now include changes made after consultations with industry, including the extension of a truck’s valid period from an original plan of 10 years to the current 12-year requirement.

Rogge added that the port estimates more than 80 per cent of its drayage fleet of 1,800 is already compliant with the 12-year limit, and another 150 trucks have become compliant since January. He noted that the port’s revised timelines now show the last trucks expected to age out of the program will be required to be retired by July 2023, giving owners more than a year’s time to replace their trucks.

“I quite frankly believe we are very confident that we won't see a disruption,” Rogge said, noting a large number of UTA members’ trucks are already compliant and wouldn’t benefit from a work disruption. “I think there's some posturing that's going on, but quite frankly, I think cooler heads will prevail, and we will see a smooth implementation of the program.”

Singh, however, said UTA members he has met with are overwhelming against the Rolling Truck Age Program, feeling it discriminates against a small group of truck operators (as the drayage fleet covers less than two per cent of all B.C. commercial truck traffic) who are largely of South-Asian descent.

Truckers at the UTA news conference said that newer trucks – if they are available for purchase during the current supply-chain shortages – are more expensive to maintain than older trucks due to the technology on board. They added that, in most cases, trucks aren’t available – with dealers not taking orders for new trucks until the next model year.

“The only problem is, why our guys are being targeted?” Singh said, noting any rules requiring older trucks to be off the road should be provincewide and not limited to the drayage fleet at the port. “Why is the two per cent being targeted... when 98 per cent of the trucks [that don’t have to be compliant] are running on the same roads?”

Singh also said the Port of Vancouver - which handled the export of 38 million tonnes of coal last year - is hypocritical in forcing truckers to upgrade trucks while doing little to reduce other greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is not about environmental causes,” Singh said of the Rolling Truck Age Program. “It's just a way to put on some kind of policy on the poor truckers ... so that smaller companies and individual owner-operators may not stay in the system. It's not the first time they've tried to eliminate our guys.”

Rogge maintains that the port authority needs to make the changes to reduce emissions in its operations, noting drayage – with 1,800 trucks making 30,000 to 35,000 truck trips a week – produces a significant level of emissions that the port can control.

Other items, such as provincewide truck-usage rules and the fact that the Port of Vancouver exports coal, are not within a port’s control, he noted.

“Our mandate is to facilitate trade,” Rogge said. “The port doesn’t make trade policy. That’s the government’s role, to decide what commodities can and should be traded. And it’s the port’s responsibility to effectively move those different goods through the port. So that’s something that is beyond the control of the port authority.”

He also noted that, because UTA represents owner-operators, it is technically not a union and cannot strike. Any service disruption, he noted, will be viewed as a withdrawal of service from commercial agreements reached between the operators and the port authority. Regardless, Rogge said he is confident no significant disruption will occur.

Singh, however, said the port authority needs to at least meaningfully engage truckers about their concerns, and he sees few ways, besides the Rolling Truck Age Program being revoked, for a strike vote to be avoided.

“Let’s say I spend $250,000 ... that I have some money in my pocket to buy [a new truck] somewhere,” he said. “There’s still no job assurance for me to pay for the vehicle. What if we are just entering a recession period, and work slows down? Why are our people being forced to buy a new car?”