[UPDATED: Aug. 19, 2019] Good luck if you’re a farmer trying to get a Class 1 semi licence before harvest.
And it might not be much easier between now and next harvest either.
That’s because starting Sept. 1 everyone has to take Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT), a 121.5-hour course designed to provide new semi drivers with safety training, before taking a road test, which they also must pass.
MELT doesn’t apply to those holding a Class 1 licence before Sept. 1.
During Keystone Agricultural Producers’ (KAP) advisory council meeting here July 30 frustrated members chided two officials — one from the Manitoba government and the other with the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation (MPIC) — for failing to address agriculture’s needs during the transition.
Members stressed that they support truck safety.
MELT, adopted by Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario following the Humboldt Broncos’ bus crash April 6, 2018 killing 16 and injuring 13, has triggered a rush among perspective drivers to take the road test before the new rules take effect.
Farmers and their employees can take the Class 1 road test before MELT. If they pass they get a Class 1A (agriculture) licence, which only allows them to drive farm-plated semis within Manitoba until Aug. 31, 2020. If they haven’t taken MELT by then, their Class 1A licence turns into a learner’s permit.
Given the backlog to take a Class 1 road test, and expected backlog in MELT course openings, farmers and their staff could still be struggling to get a Class 1 licence a year from now, KAP vice-president Mitch Janssens, said in an interview after the meeting.
“What you’re giving us is a joke because you can’t test the individuals between now and harvest beginning and it’s going to expire two weeks into next year’s harvest so how is that going to help our industry?” Janssens asked the officials.
“The trucking industry is kind of overwhelming the demand for training and it’s very hard for an independent producer to get his name on the list to get the training,” he said later.
Why it matters: Manitoba farmers are increasingly using semis to deliver produce to markets, but new regulations making it mandatory to take safety training before getting a Class 1 licence has created a backlog in testing. The new rules will cost perspective drivers several thousands of dollars and 121.5 hours away from the farm, to take the course.
“I have three individuals on my farming operation who haven’t had a chance to get in and do a road test,” KAP vice-president Jill Verwey told the officials. “They actually can’t operate the two (semi) trucks we have sitting on our farm. So you’re really tying our hands as far as our ability to be able to follow these new guidelines.”
Verwey stressed she’s in favour of greater road safety, but was frustrated with the province’s implementation of the new rules.
“MPIC has done an awful job of increasing the capacity on the other side with road tests and has basically said ‘no, we’re not hiring any more (testers) and we’re not doing any more (extra tests),’” she said. “Professional driving schools are getting priority over (road test) spots.”
Niverville farmer Kevin Stott made a similar point: “You changed the rules and it’s going to increase our costs because you have not put more instructors (and testers) out there to meet the demand.”
While there’s not much that can be done before this harvest, potential improvements can be discussed and considered this fall and winter, Jeremy Angus, acting assistant deputy minister for emergency management and public safety in the Department of Infrastructure told the meeting.
Angus said it appears the one-year deferral agriculture is getting before having to take MELT might not be long enough.
“I think you have identified a gap and I think we’ll take that back for use and put some thoughts around it,” he said. “This opportunity to dialogue will go on into the fall and winter when I know you’ll have more time to participate because your voice matters.”
KAP members Les Felsch and Chuck Fossay, who represented KAP when the government was consulting on MELT, said the issues they raised were ignored.
There were just two farmers among 25 to 30 officials from the trucking industry and trucking schools at the meeting, Fossay said. The trucking industry sees MELT as a way to get someone else to train drivers, and trucking schools see mandatory training as a windfall, he said.
MELT is a concern for young farmers, because they often have off-farm jobs and will have trouble finding three weeks to take the course, he said.
The course cost, which trucking school websites put at $7,000 to $9,000, is also prohibitive.
“That’s a big cost for a young farmer,” Fossay said.
Dean Zarrillo, MPIC’s business relationship manager, said trucking schools have been encouraged to ofter flexible training hours for MELT.
Fossay also suggested MPIC set aside 10 to 15 per cent of the road test appointments for farmers. Currently trucking schools get most of the openings, he said.
According to Felsch there’s just a three-minute window every Wednesday morning to book Class 1 road tests. Fisher Branch farmer Shannon Pyziak suggested some of the driving hours registered by new Class 1A drivers should count towards MELT training.
Zarrillo said he’d ensure the idea would get further consideration.
Agriculture might be better served by having a separate licensing and safety training program for those driving farm-plated semis only in Manitoba, Janssens said in an interview.
“So if I pay $9,000 for an employee to get his licence he’s not going to leave me for the oilfield because it’s paying five bucks an hour more because he’s only got a Class 1 ‘farm’ licence,” he said.
KAP has been encouraging Assiniboine Community College in Brandon to provide courses on operating farm equipment, which could include semis.
“If you go back far enough a farmhand needed to be able to handle a pitchfork, now it’s a half-million-dollar piece of equipment,” Janssens said. “So they need to be experienced and knowledgeable.”
- Effective Sept. 1, 2019, a 121-hour Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT) course will be required before a driver can book a road test to obtain a Class 1 licence.
- Drivers with an existing valid Manitoba Class 1 licence issued before Sept. 1, 2019, do not need to retest and are not required to take MELT.
- According to MPIC’s website, “due to unprecedented high demand” all Class 1 road test appointments have been fully booked throughout July and August. No Class 1 road test appointments will be available until booking resumes in mid-August, when September appointments will be made available.
- The MELT requirement is deferred for the agricultural industry for one year, but farmers say that’s immaterial because they and their employees aren’t able to book testing.
- After Sept. 1, 2019, agricultural workers can take the Class 1 road test to obtain a conditional Class 1 licence without completing MELT.
- Drivers who request an agricultural deferral and who pass their road test will be issued a conditional Class 1 licence to drive farm-plated Class 1 vehicles in Manitoba until Aug. 31, 2020.
*Update: The article previously stated the Swift Current Broncos as the hockey team involved in the bus crash on April 6, 2019, when in fact the team involved was the Humboldt Broncos. We apologize for the error.