A perfect storm, combining the summer vacation period, a lift of travel restrictions and a shortage of truck drivers, could explain the fuel supply problems that some regions of Quebec are currently experiencing, particularly the Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec regions.
The trucking industry has been singled out as a cause of the shortages. However, several factors are involved and the service disruptions in certain regions affect the entire supply chain, says the Quebec Trucking Association (ACQ). The situation can be explained by an increase in the demand for gasoline during summer vacations.
“Certainly, the industry is short of drivers, but that doesn’t explain everything,” said Marc Cadieux, president and CEO of the ACQ, pointing out that the problem of the last few days must be nuanced.
“Currently, the workforce is at maximum on the road, and even if the industry was not affected by a shortage, all available trucks are on the road,” Cadieux said in a press release.
“The backlogs for new [equipment] acquisitions are looking at lead times to 2022 and for parts purchases, that’s months. Logistics and supply planning issues also play a role in the shortage. Oil companies have seen their sales easily double in the last three weeks. This sudden surge in demand, which no one could have predicted, is affecting oil companies as much as other industries caught off-guard by the sometimes unpredictable behavior of consumers during this pandemic.”
When we talked to him early this afternoon, Benoit Therrien, producer and host of the Truckstop Quebec radio show, was leaving the truck stop at Exit 228 on Hwy. 20 in Centre-du-Québec. “There’s a lot of demand here, but it didn’t seem to be a fuel shortage,” he told us.
“The shortage at first is that everyone is taking their vacation in Quebec. There are more and more motor homes on the road. Try to buy a pleasure boat. The demand is huge,” he says.
It’s also summer vacation, a time when many truckers take time off as well.
“This shortage started in Lac-Saint-Jean. It has now arrived here, and it will probably move elsewhere,” surmises Therrien.
“For sure, we’re having a hard time finding drivers. But what happened during the pandemic is that the volume [of fuel to be transported] dropped by almost 50%. We didn’t hire back, but when things started to pick up again, the shortage of manpower was felt,” said Jacques Auger, president and founder of Transport Jacques Auger, a major petroleum products carrier in the province.
There has also been some movement on fuel delivery contracts in recent months. The companies that won the big contracts didn’t necessarily have the manpower to handle the job.
It’s going to be a tough summer, Auger predicts. “People are getting out, going to visit their families after a year of lockdown.”
Currently, there is no shortage of trucks to make deliveries. “We have trucks in the yard. But the volume has increased by 15%, while 10% of our drivers are on vacation. The math is easy to do. In September, things will be back to normal,” says Auger.