Marine Atlantic’s decision to go back to dual occupancy in its sleeper berths for commercial drivers has raised concerns among truckers who use the ferry service.
The Crown corporation serves as a lifeline to get goods to Newfoundland and Labrador’s 550,000 residents.
Commercial drivers are provided sleeper berths onboard the ferries because they are not permitted to rest in their own sleeper cabs as “Transport Canada regulations prohibit anyone from remaining on vehicle decks while the vessel is at sea,” according to Marine Atlantic.
Due to Covid health guidelines, Marine Atlantic allowed single occupancy in its berths so drivers could maintain social distancing. It reverted back to its double occupancy standard June 1, however.
“The current procedure of single occupancy was implemented as a temporary measure in response to the pandemic,” Marine Atlantic said in a notice on its website. “With the easing of public health measures, we are now returning to double occupancy berths. Passengers are no longer required to complete pre-travel screening and masks are not required.”
Upgrades to private cabins are available for an additional fee on a first-come/first-served basis.
Chris Howlett, CEO of Akita Equipment, said many truckers are not yet comfortable sharing berths. Some are choosing to skip sailings, creating delays in getting essential goods to Newfoundland.
“With Covid continuing to circulate, and with our National Chief Medical Office Dr. Tam indicating ‘a seventh wave is possible this fall,’ we must act fast,” Howlett wrote in a letter to Marine Atlantic and elected officials. “Our employees’ safety and our province’s security depend on it.”
Howlett and other truckers who supply the island requested an urgent meeting with Marine Atlantic, to discuss these concerns. So far, they have only been granted one interview and no progress was made. Howlett said his own company has seen operational costs increase and drivers leave. He has had to pay more than $7,000 in upgrades over the past six weeks so drivers could have their own rooms.
“This is causing many drivers concern and discomfort with risk to their health and mental wellbeing, and they have stated they may look for other forms of work elsewhere. I, for one, cannot afford any more reductions in staff, or to have staff working in any compromised manner and I believe this to be the case with most transport companies operating today,” Howlett said. “The bigger picture presents a more dire outlook. Can Newfoundland and Labrador afford and sustain a potential slowing of services that deliver essential goods to our province?”
Drivers who do not have the option to lay flat in a sleeper berth will be out of hours at the end of their voyage, Howlett pointed out.
“In fact, they should not even move their truck to disembark, as that would be considered offsides under current regulations,” he added. “If any one truck driver or carrier company decides to remain stationary because of this a ripple effect could negatively impact all goods, perishables and medical supplies being transported to Newfoundland.”
As of July 19, Howlett told TruckNews.com the dual berth policy is “still a major issue” and “a constant battle.” He said he has rallied together a number of carriers that run about 130 trucks crossing the Gulf weekly.
“We are soon going to have to shut things down in order to get heard,” he said. “We can’t eat this cost.”