Alberta invests $30M, introduces transmission testing changes to increase commercial truckers on the road

The province is boosting grants supporting commercial truck training to help get more Albertans on the road while also allowing drivers to take mandatory testing on their choice of transmission starting in 2023.

Announced Thursday, Minister of Transportation Rajan Sawhney said the province will invest $30 million to support truck driver training over three years.

That includes $18 million to support 1,800 prospective drivers complete mandatory entry level training (MELT) to earn a Class 1 licence through the Driving Back to Work Program.

“This industry is a key driver of our economy,” Sawhney said. “Our government is committed to supporting our commercial carrier industry and helping unemployed Albertans back to work.”

Over three years, $9 million will be used to encourage more women to enter the trucking industry, the province said.

The remaining $3 million will be used to develop online and virtual reality simulator training for commercial drivers.

By 2023, the province forecasts the shortage of commercial drivers to be around 12 per cent, about 3,600 drivers, which it believes may put the province’s supply chain at risk as more than 50 per cent of all goods in Alberta are delivered by truck.

Class 1 MELT programs take around 120 hours to complete, including air brake training, with a mixture of classroom, practical, and in-yard training. According to the government, the maximum a driver training school can charge is $10,000 for that training.

Grant recipients have 90 per cent of their Class 1 MELT covered. According to the province, since November 2020, 800 unemployed Albertans obtained their licence through the subsidized training program.

“This grant makes it more affordable to take the training and testing,” Sawhney said. “We are working hard to prevent future driver shortages.”

The province has invested $8 million into the grant program to date.

“(This funding) will help remove roadblocks for careers in the commercial transportation industry and help maintain the efficient transport of people and goods,” said Chris Nash, Alberta Motor Transport Association president, in a statement.

TRANSMISSION CHOICE FOR CLASS 1 TESTS

To make it easier for commercial drivers to achieve a Class 1 licence, Sawhney announced that road tests can be completed on automatic or manual transmission starting in “early 2023.” Currently, tests can only be completed on manual transmission trucks.

“This was something that I heard (about) extensively,” Sawhney added. “This change recognizes the reality of the modern trucking industry where more than half of the trucks on Alberta roads have automatic transmissions.”

Once the change takes effect, drivers tested on automatic transmission would be limited to only driving automatic commercial trucks. A condition code would be added to a driver’s licence that can be removed if they take another test on a manual transmission vehicle.

“Offering automatic transmission training is a positive step in dealing with a shortage of truck drivers,” said Arshpreet Tiwana, manager of Skyward Driving School in Edmonton.

“This decision will open the door for more Albertans, including women, to take up a rewarding career on the road.” 

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