Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca is calling for mandatory entry-level training for truck drivers and a review of road test standards following a Star investigation.
“We are going to go forward. We’re going to move as quickly as we can but we want to make sure that we get it right,” Del Duca told the Star Wednesday, referring to entry-level training.
“I believe it should take place as quickly as possible, but in a manner that actually produces the end result that we all want, which is the safest roads in North America, which is part of my responsibility.”
The Star’s ongoing investigation of the truck driver training industry in Ontario has revealed that no formal instruction is necessary to obtain a licence to drive a tractor-trailer. As long as licence seekers can pass the practical portion of the provincial test, which the Star found consists of about 15 minutes on a road route in many cases, new drivers can be on the highway the next day hauling upwards of 36,000 kilograms of freight — anything from livestock to flammable chemicals.
The Star found that many would-be tractor-trailer drivers enrol in cut-rate, unregulated schools that teach students just enough to pass their DriveTest exam. These schools — the Star found two dozen operating in the GTA — thrive by exploiting a provincial loophole that allows them to evade government oversight by simply charging less than $1,000 for a course.
Del Duca said he recently met with industry representatives, including the Ontario Trucking Association, which represents about 1,000 trucking companies across North America, to discuss mandatory entry-level training and has raised the idea of a national training standard with his provincial and federal counterparts. The minister said he is committed to working with all stakeholders, including Reza Moridi, Ontario’s minister of training, colleges and universities, whose portfolio currently oversees truck driver training.
“I believe that as long as we’re enhancing and making the training mandatory and working together with our partner ministry and with the industry on this, we’re going to arrive at a place where you’ll see the standards rise; you’ll see the entire system be strengthened,” said Del Duca.
The minister also said he has instructed his staff to review road test standards at the Woodbridge DriveTest centre, Ontario’s busiest truck licensing facility.
The Star watched more than a dozen road tests at the Woodbridge location and found that not one learner was taken on a 400-series expressway, even though exam routes take candidates past the on-ramps to Hwys. 427 and 407. This, despite a ministry policy that states those seeking their AZ licence — required to drive a tractor-trailer with air brakes — must be tested on roads that have a minimum speed limit of 80 km/h.
The Star also found licence seekers are not tested on their ability to back a tractor-trailer into a working loading dock. At the Woodbridge test centre, the Star observed test takers backing into a walled area.
“I’ve asked the staff here to go out, to take a look at this to make sure that the test centre is meeting the standards that they are supposed to, and . . . if those standards are not being met, then action will be taken. It will be decisive,” Del Duca said.
Matt Richardson of KRTS Transportation Specialists, a provincially accredited truck training school in Caledonia, Ont., said the minister’s decision to review test procedures “is a great first step” to raising industry standards.
“There was some shock among the public (in reaction to the Star investigation) because they had no idea as to what took place with some of these road tests. They couldn’t believe you could obtain your tractor-trailer licence without going on a highway and could obtain your tractor-trailer licence with a 15-minute road test,” Richardson said.
He said his company supports mandatory entry-level training “in principal.” but wants to be involved in creating the program.
“As a training school, we don’t want to have something, for a lack of a better term, shoved down our throats. We’re the people in the trenches every day with other good schools that run accredited programs, so we would like a say in what that mandatory training is going to look like,” said Richardson.
Ontario Trucking Association president David Bradley said he was “extremely pleased” with Del Duca’s desire to make entry-level training a requirement.
“We’ve been talking to the people in his ministry about this over the past few months, so I’m glad to see the commitment being made. We think that is the key to all of this,” Bradley said. “We believe the way to satisfy what the industry wants . . . is to have mandatory entry-level training so we at least have some confidence that when someone gets their (trucking) licence, they have some basic level of skill.”