By Connor Lynch
CAMPBELLFORD — Ontario overhauled the rules for getting an AZ license in July, a move that some farmers, elevator operators and truckers feel threatens to make an unpopular job even less popular.
The province announced the move after a Toronto Star investigation revealed dozens of what it called “degree mills,” unaccredited colleges that cranked out diplomas, teaching truck drivers how to pass a road test and little else. The new requirements stipulate budding truckers using air brakes will need at least 103.5 hours of road time before they can even take a test.
These so-called degree mills kept their course prices under $1,000, so that they wouldn’t have to be accredited by the province. At Crossroads Truck Training Academy in Ottawa, an accredited career college, the AZ program is a six-week, 200-hour training course that costs over $8,000.
Elevator operators told the Farmers Forum that truckers are already hard to come by and that new rules and increased costs won’t help.
Campbellford Grain merchandiser Peter Archer described the new rules as “a continuation of Ontario’s war on truckers.” The new rules require in-truck training with a supervisor. “How can you afford two (truckers) when you could hardly afford one before? That won’t work for guys like us,” Archer said. “Farm kids around here, they’ve been in trucks since they were nine years old. They’re more than capable of driving the damn truck.”
Elora long-haul trucker and farmer Keith Austin said that he wouldn’t counsel any young person to get into the industry now. “I have a good friend who’s driven a truck for 45 years,” Austin said. “He got charged for speeding, and had to go in for a retest. He failed it, because it’s a technical test. He’s never had an accident or harmed a soul, but now he’s considered unfit to drive.”
Austin added that the major problem with the new requirements is that budding truck drivers may never even get the chance to prove they can properly drive a truck. “Young boys, their insurance is already killing them right off the bat. $6,000 for the course? They haven’t got a hope in hell (of affording that). Why bother?”
Ontario Trucking Association communications VP Marco Beghetto said the new rules are necessary to legitimize the industry and protect drivers. “I don’t see how piloting 80,000 lb. pieces of equipment on highways we share with families, that there shouldn’t be some basic standards.”
Beghetto said that most drivers under the old system were up to the current standards but the rules permitted an “underbelly of drivers without the training.”