Reservations boycott

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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Truckers say Marine Atlantic changes still deny them equal access

Changes announced Tuesday by Marine Atlantic to its commercial reservations system for its Gulf ferry service don't appear to be going over well with independent truckers in this province.

At the same time Marine Atlantic was sending out media releases Tuesday regarding the changes, some truckers had already begun driving across the province with a plan to boycott the reservations system and, in a form of protest, line up for the ferry in Port aux Basques.

The Marine Atlantic ferry Leif Ericson sits at the dock in Port aux Basques. File photo by The Gulf News

Changes announced Tuesday by Marine Atlantic to its commercial reservations system for its Gulf ferry service don't appear to be going over well with independent truckers in this province.

At the same time Marine Atlantic was sending out media releases Tuesday regarding the changes, some truckers had already begun driving across the province with a plan to boycott the reservations system and, in a form of protest, line up for the ferry in Port aux Basques.

Independent truckers Chris Howlett and Tony Cole, were reached by phone during a brief stop in Bishop's Falls Tuesday afternoon.

Both men said they hadn't seen the Marine Atlantic release, but it was their understanding the changes set to take effect Monday, won't resolve the issues raised by local truckers in May.

Marine Atlantic introduced a new commercial reservations system in March. Prior to that commercial vehicles boarded the Gulf ferries travelling between Port aux Basques and North Sydney on a first-come, first-served basis.

Local trucking companies complained that large mainland-based trucking firms were making mass bookings and cancelling at the last minute. They also argued that smaller companies don't have the ability to make bookings well in advance, like the larger companies, because they never know exactly their client base and are likely to have little notice themselves when contracted to truck perishable goods to and from the island.

Marine Atlantic said Tuesday the changes effective next week are being made to "better serve the commercial trucking industry and its customers."

Among them, Don Barnes, Marine Atlantic's vice-president of customer experience, said an online system for commercial reservations will be available to alleviate administrative challenges faced by customers when making a booking.

The cut-off time for reservation changes and cancellations will be increased from 12 hours to 24 hours.

"The independent truckers have told us their biggest challenge is getting a booking at short notice, because much of their business is secured in the last 12 to 24 hours. This change means a significant improvement for them," Barnes said.

Cole said this change is going in the wrong direction altogether. A lot of times independent truckers don't know 24 hours in advance if they have a load to transport, he said, so how can they make a reservation that far in advance.

"A lot of times I'm getting a call for a load here eight o'clock in the morning, just for argument's sake in Harbour Breton, and ... I'd like to be on the boat for 11 o'clock that night, so I've only got 14 or 15 hours. So, I don't know where the 24-hour window benefits me," Cole said.

On the other side, he said, if he's leaving Toronto to come to North Sydney, it's a 24-hour drive plus a 10-hour mandatory rest stop. If he doesn't make it to the ferry in North Sydney in time, Cole said, he can now add another 24 hours onto his time before he makes the crossing.

Among the other changes, Barnes said the check-in time for tractor-trailers will be reduced from three hours to two and from five hours to four hours for drop trailers.

Barnes said this change in the check-in time for tractor-trailers effectively eliminates late fees for this sector. Previously, he said, "Units that arrived between three hours and two hours were deemed late and were subject to a $150 late fee."

A wait list system should also be in place in early July, Barnes said. Marine Atlantic is determining the parameters for a wait list and examining some technical questions from a systems perspective, he said, but intend to have this in place as soon as possible.

Cole said it's his understanding the grocery industry has been driving this reservation system because it works well for them with their own distribution systems, but they only represent about 20 per cent of the trucking business on the island. "So, what about the other 80 per cent? Is it all chopped liver, just not worth it?" he said.

Cole said equal access is what's needed and right now the smaller independent truckers don't have that. To demand this, he said, the truckers weren't planning to interfere or block the ferry service. "We're just boycotting the reservation system," he said. "We'll go to Port aux Basques to get on a boat without reservations."

Gerri Howlett, who operates Akita Equipment with her son Chris, said Marine Atlantic has indicated again that it has consulted with truckers and sought their input before implementing the new system, but the organization it consulted with was the Atlantic Truckers' Association, based in Moncton, N.B., which represents the larger companies that agree with the reservations system.

dss@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Marine Atlantic

Geographic location: Port aux Basques, North Sydney, Harbour Breton Toronto Moncton

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Recent comments

  • Greg
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    My advice to Mr. Barnes, VP of Customer Experience is to spend less time being a spin doctor and more time fixing the problem.

    The new system is unfair, full stop. The only reason we use your service is because we have to as Marine Atlantic is a monopoly and conducts itself as a monopoly.

  • grant
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    Of all the ferry systems in the world surly they dont have this problem, if they did it would be a mess. in a hundred years time it will be a bigger mess because it gets worse all the time. i been taking the ferry since the william carson and it was better back then. Id advise any tourist planning on coming to the rock this summer to go somewhere else, or fly and rent a car, opps rental cars are scarce and no unlimited mileage in this big island. ohh my.

  • Greg
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    My advice to Mr. Barnes, VP of Customer Experience is to spend less time being a spin doctor and more time fixing the problem.

    The new system is unfair, full stop. The only reason we use your service is because we have to as Marine Atlantic is a monopoly and conducts itself as a monopoly.

  • grant
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    Of all the ferry systems in the world surly they dont have this problem, if they did it would be a mess. in a hundred years time it will be a bigger mess because it gets worse all the time. i been taking the ferry since the william carson and it was better back then. Id advise any tourist planning on coming to the rock this summer to go somewhere else, or fly and rent a car, opps rental cars are scarce and no unlimited mileage in this big island. ohh my.