The impacts and opportunities presented with spring thaw 2022

semi-truck on highway in spring thaw season

 

Each day, millions of kilograms of cargo are transported over the road in Canada. Trucks, tractors, and trailers transport the very essentials we as a society have come to expect. Trailers are loaded as full as legally possible, to ensure every square inch of the trailer is utilized accordingly. As they say, payload equates to profit. 

In Canada, each province is responsible to set maximum weight limits for commercial vehicles, to help protect the provincial and federal infrastructure. Additionally, trucking companies, also known as commercial carriers, and their professional drivers, are required to not overload the manufacturer weight ratings allowed for their commercial vehicles’ overall weight allowance, as well as axle and tire weight ratings. 

As winter turns into spring, the snow and ice that has settled on the ground for some time will melt, and during this thawing process, the ground becomes much softer than during the winter months. Because of this change in ground condition, the strength beneath the roadways decreases, and as a result, each province in Canada will lower the legal amount a commercial vehicle can transport on certain roadways to ultimately protect their roadways and infrastructure. In addition to lowering the weight limits on roadways, in certain regions, the province will also ban commercial vehicles from traveling on their roadway until safe to do so. 

This practice is commonly known as “spring thaw weight restriction”. Not only is this considered a practice, but for a specific amount of time, the laws surrounding weight limits on roadways change, and those that break these laws can be charged in a variety of ways by law enforcement. 

What impact does spring-thaw weight restriction have on our supply chain? 

The weight restrictions on roadways have a major impact on the Canadian supply chain as it takes more commercial vehicles hauling trailers to make up for the less allowable weight than other months. A domino effect impact of having more commercial vehicles hauling more trailers on our roadways means more trailers will be required to show up to warehouses and distribution centers. This puts strain on warehouses and distribution centers as more manpower is required to load and unload such trailers. 

Similarly, major retailers and grocery stores that typically expect one or two trailers a day will need to increase their shipping and receiving to accommodate for the increase in trailers dropping off the required products to ensure they meet their quotas, and ultimately satisfy their customer’s demands. 

Is spring-thaw all bad, or are there opportunities that come with the season change?

As the saying goes, every challenge presents an opportunity to offer a solution. The trucking community is a creative group of professionals that is always up for a good challenge. In the case of spring-thaw, there are a few opportunities for commercial carriers. 

For starters, the weight restrictions cause a greater demand for more commercial vehicles and trailers being transported to meet their customer demands. With more trailers being transported, carriers can work with their clients to make sure the loads are profitable, even though less weight is being transported. 

Typically, if a grocery or retail load requires a dry van 53’ trailer, they are one-way trips. This means there is the product being delivered to the store location, or distribution center, but does not guarantee a returned load from this location. There are situations where pallets may need to be returned from the store to a pallet distribution location, but not always the case. When the carrier is planning a one-way trip without a guaranteed return trip, they can price this accordingly to make the trip pay for the delivery and backhaul, or part of the miles back. 

Backhauls are another opportunity carriers can pursue when they have more trailers on the roadways, to ensure they make a profit on the entire trip. Under normal circumstances, empty miles are a complete expense for the carrier, so finding a backhaul, even if a partial load, can help create profit in the trip. 

In addition to the carrier creating an opportunity as spring-thaw restrictions are in effect, suppliers in the transportation industry also benefit during this period. Any time a commercial vehicle is operating on the roadway, there is a cost associated with it. The costs could include fuel, maintenance, tires, professional drivers’ wages, or insurance, just to list a couple.  

If a carrier knows in January that by March, they will be transporting ten extra loads a day for a specific customer, they will be working with their supplier partners to ensure everything goes without an issue. More commercial vehicles operating, more fuel will be purchased. More miles being driven will lead to more preventative maintenance required to be completed. If the carrier does not have all of the equipment required to complete the extra loads each day, they can reach out to their leasing supplier and lease accordingly. 

As we navigate through the spring-thaw weight restrictions in 2022, let us all stay focused on the opportunities this time presents to us, which ultimately will help our industry succeed while improving our supply chain.