Walmart Canada's long tractor-trailer combination should soon begin in-service testing following the issuing of revised permit conditions by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, the province's trucking association says.

An 18-month trial of 60-foot, 6-inch-long drop-deck vans will include as many as five carriers, including Walmart's transport arm.

Each of the carriers will get four permits, and use will be limited to the shipping of retail goods, according to the Ontario Trucking Association, which generally opposes longer trailers and objected to proposed testing on safety grounds.

But OTA says the new conditions have addressed many of its key concerns raised in recent weeks. Among them are that safety conditions reflect those in the province's program for long combination vehicles, or LCVs. A key demand is that the holding of permits will be by carriers and not shippers, which the ministry agreed to.

"While for the most part the trucking industry would prefer to not have to deal with the whole question of extended-length trailers, the association's long-standing position is that it will not stand in the way of changes to Ontario's truck weights and dimensions standards that would enhance the productivity of the industry, its customers or the provincial economy at large," said OTA's president, David Bradley, in a statement.

"But the proposed vehicles (must) maintain or enhance highway/road safety; meet or exceed provincial dynamic performance standards; produce environmental benefits such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions; and allow for a sufficient return on investment," he continued.

"In addition, OTA has also long held that only carriers with acceptable safety records -- those who are prepared to ensure the safety of their fleets and their drivers -- should have access to such special permits."

Under provisions demanded by OTA and agreed to by the ministry, carriers must:

- Have a meaningful level of qualification and not merely a satisfactory safety rating;
- Maintain a minimum of $5 million liability insurance and have at least five years of prior trucking experience;
- Provide appropriate orientation to drivers who have a minimum of five years provable tractor-trailer experience; and
- State specific origins and destinations, and inform the ministry in advance of operating plans.

Driver qualifications were not included in the original proposal, the association said. Among training points are the rear swing-out characteristics of the proposed trailer.

A shorter tractor is needed to fit within current length limits, OTA noted. Walmart's prototype uses a cab-over-engine tractor assembled from a glider kit bought from Freightliner Trucks.

From a safety perspective and because the industry is already heavily invested in 53-foot trailers, OTA had also argued that the ministry should adhere to a multi-year gradual phase-in of operators and permits, as in the current Ontario LCV program.

"The revised permit conditions state (that), based on the results of the (trial) evaluation, the ministry will determine whether to and how to proceed with a measured roll-out of extended semi-trailer operations," Bradley said.

"It is clear that what we are now talking about is a very small, tightly controlled trial of a specific trailer design, not a wide open roll-out of a new, longer trailer standard."

To access details of MTOs full permit conditions program, click here.