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Vehicles drive on Highway 401 westbound in Kingston, Ontario.The Canadian Press

Truck driver Sukhraj Sandhu gets up at around 4:30 a.m. and leaves his home in Brampton, Ont. about 90 minutes later. On an average day, he’ll cover about 300 kilometres, making stops in places such as Barrie and Etobicoke before heading to Mississauga – where the company for which he subcontracts is based.

As an owner-operator – which means he owns and drives the truck – fuelling up to cover such long distances, in addition to vehicle repairs and maintenance, is Mr. Sandhu’s own responsibility. But a full 900-litre tank of diesel currently costs him $1,800, which is double what he said he used to pay last year.

“Diesel prices now are a big, big hit to the industry,” he said.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has exacerbated the imbalance between the global supply and demand of oil and caused fuel prices to skyrocket: Diesel fuel in southern Ontario is currently hovering around 233.6 cents a litre, while the price of regular unleaded gasoline is around 198.7 cents. Experts warn that the ripple effect could include dangerous repercussions for some truckers who can’t easily absorb added costs amid fierce competition in the industry.

“They are skipping some of the essential maintenance; they are cutting repair costs,” said Manan Gupta, publisher of Road Today, a Toronto-based publication that serves Canada’s South Asian trucking community. “They are feeling the pinch of this fuel increase, but they need to survive, so, one way or the other, it is affecting the trucking industry in safety, in ensuring it’s profitable and, also, making it hard for anyone new to join the industry.”

Some truckers are relying on lines of credit to stay afloat, according to Jagroop Singh, president of the Ontario Aggregate Trucking Association, a Brampton-based advocacy organization with nearly 4,500 members. He said a single truck on average consumes about 400 litres of gas – worth $800 – per day. His membership travels locally upward of 700 kilometres a day, and the minimum fuel-tank size is about 600 litres.

Mr. Sandhu, who has been a trucker since 1998, said 14-hour work days are commonplace, as overtime is needed to cover the additional cost of fuel. An even greater cost of the long hours for him, however, is the loss of time at home with family. And with a high rate of inflation that has increased the cost of living, Mr. Sandhu said it’s been a struggle managing fuel prices for work. Unable to save, the last four months have been “just hand to mouth,” he said.

To provide relief at the pumps, Mr. Sandhu suggests that the federal carbon tax, which went up last month, be paused for now. The Ontario Progressive Conservative government had last month introduced legislation to temporarily cut the gas tax by 5.7 cents per litre and the fuel tax by 5.3 cents per litre – but those measures, if passed, wouldn’t come into effect until July 1.

While owner-operators such as Mr. Sandhu cover their own fuel, other truckers work for transport companies that foot the bill. Dharampal Sandhu, who runs Friendx Ltd. in Brampton, manages 16 trucks and last week paid about $8,200 in gas for the entire fleet – about 4,000 litres.

The retail price of that would’ve been about $9,000, he said, but he gets a discount because of the volume of fuel he buys. Still, looking back to a year ago, a weekly fuel bill for Friendx Ltd. in May, 2021 was $2,752 – at a rate of $1.16 a litre.

“Everybody now is losing because in the last six months we didn’t make much money because [of] gas prices,” Dharampal Sandhu said. Friendx Ltd is managing despite cost pressures, he added, because they’re a third party for a larger Brampton-based transport company that covers insurance and parking.

Mr. Gupta said government incentives for fuel-efficient trucks could help companies absorb high costs long-term, but supply-chain delays in acquiring new trucks mean it wouldn’t be an immediate solution.

“There has to be some incentive for the trucking community to keep on investing in itself for better productivity,” Mr. Gupta said on the future of the industry.

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