Plow operators still face 'lots of bills' despite fewer snow days

Private snow plow operators say their days clearing driveways and parking lots are down by half compared to last year.

'Our salting has definitely gone up, for sure'

Nathan MacDonald of Twins Snow Removal says while plowing has gone down this year, salting has gone up. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Private snow plow operators say their days clearing driveways and parking lots are down by half compared to last year.

"It's a winter that we never thought we'd get," says Gary Nicholson, co-owner of Dickieson's Snow Removal. "Who'd ever think that we'd get no snow in January or February?"

Nicholson said 2017-18 has been a lighter season for his staff, who faced much more demanding work and weather conditions in years past.

At Dickieson's, plow operators are paid a contract rate for the year no matter how much or how little it snows.

You need to make sure your equipment is 100 per cent ready to roll for the next snow, so the only money you might be saving is on fuel.— Nathan MacDonald

"I don't pay by the hour, because this year the drivers wouldn't make as much money, so they might say next year 'I'm not going to drive for you because I didn't get paid enough money,'" Nicholson said.

"I can budget better that way, too, because I know exactly what it costs me per year."

Owners say budgeting isn't easy in the snow clearing business, and just because there isn't a lot of snow, doesn't mean a windfall for the companies that do the work.

"I still have lots of bills," Nicholson said. "The only bill I don't have is breakdowns, fuel, and meals. That's probably the smallest percentage of my budget because the tractors and the blowers are the expense in insurance."

'There's a lot of fixed costs'

Officials from several Island companies say fluctuating temperatures have kept them busy salting — even when there isn't a lot of snow.

And that means more money spent on salt.

"With the warming of temperatures and the cooling of temperatures and the rain we've had this winter, we've been doing a lot of salting," said Nathan MacDonald of Twins Snow Removal.

"Our salting has definitely gone up, for sure."

And that's in addition to the annual fixed costs.

"There's a lot of fixed costs — overhead, insurance, maintenance," MacDonald said.

"I wouldn't say people have made a lot of money by any means, those costs are still there and they'll never go away."

Snow plow operators are generally paid a contract rate for the year no matter how much or how little it snows. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

MacDonald estimates that his plows have spent about 50 per cent less time clearing snow this year.

He said with fewer demands plowing his crews stay busy keeping the equipment in good condition.  

"You need to make sure your equipment is 100 per cent ready to roll for the next snow, so the only money you might be saving is on fuel."

According to the province's Department of Transportation, spending on snow clearing is on par with previous years.

P.E.I.'s annual winter maintenance budget is $15 million — that includes salting and sanding.

About the Author

Jessica Doria-Brown

Videojournalist

Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I.

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