Featured Article: No wait for weight
Backlogs at weigh stations and toll booths are a thing of the past for efficiency-minded owner-operators who use automated bypass and collection transponder technology.
Weigh-station bypassing transponders are operational in the majority of the lower 48 states. So are transponders for electronic toll collection, in states with toll roads. These time- and cash-saving tools are available for next to nothing and useful in most over-the-road owner-operator applications.
“I wouldn’t be without it,” says owner-operator Ray Lawson of his PrePass transponder.
Not every owner-operator can cash in on toll discounts. Still, with rates rising on lanes in states facing big budgetary pressures, and with new toll roads emerging yearly, electronic collection often provides access to the best rates via discounts, as Lawson knows. But he lauds his toll-collection device not just as a cost-savings tool but as a time-saver as well. As more toll facilities implement open-road tolling, long queues at toll booths are disappearing.
Says Lawson, who is leased to Superior Carriers, “Coming from Baltimore, that last toll [station] on the Pennsylvania pike can be backed up forever, but I just go right through – it has a dedicated lane just for E-ZPass.”
Taking the bypass
On average, PrePass officials estimate, not stopping at a weigh station saves five minutes and almost a half-gallon of fuel, based on the fuel used idling and getting back up to speed. By that estimate, at $2.50 a gallon it takes Lawson just a few bypasses to pay for his $5 monthly charge, though he benefits from a volume discount rate passed on to him by his carrier. The nondiscounted charge for most operators will be a monthly $16.
The public-private partnership between state governments and business that is PrePass isn’t the only weigh-station bypassing system. NorPass is a public utility that is free, except for the initial or rental cost of the transponder. Some NorPass states, such as Oregon, will even give you the transponder, which you can also equip for PrePass. That’s what Overdrive October Trucker of the Month Howard Salmon did. He’s covered for weigh station bypassing in 28 states with PrePass and six states with NorPass in the lower 48, in addition to Alaska and Canadian British Columbia and Quebec.
Carriers starting with a PrePass account, however, will be limited to bypassing in the 28 PrePass states, says PrePass parent company HELP Inc. President and CEO Richard Landis. “We give the transponder to the carrier to operate in the system. It belongs to us through the life of the transponder, and with that ownership comes the legal right to determine who uses it and how.”
Landis says that PrePass’ public-private nature has long led the organization toward limiting the use of carrier information in weigh-station bypassing systems to safety-critical purposes only. He says that many NorPass states happen to be states where a weight-distance tax is levied on motor carriers shows that NorPass bypass information could well be used for other purposes, such as tax auditing.
NorPass rep Mark Spellman likens this notion to an urban legend. Any data related to a bypassing truck “only sits out at the roadside there for seven days before we overwrite it,” he says. On the other hand, he says, when a truck goes into a weigh station, the information is stored for longer periods of time in the carrier’s safety observation file.
Furthermore, despite their differences, both systems can work to the benefit of safe carriers and those with spotty records alike. Basing prefigured bypass rates on a carrier’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration safety ratings – and, in the case of PrePass, the owner-operator’s – among other public information, both systems will bypass a carrier with a clean record and excellent safety rating nearly all the time. Spellman says the NorPass system bypasses carriers with the highest rating 95 percent of the time. If your record is tainted, however, you can still benefit as long as your record is sufficiently good to meet systems’ thresholds for participation; as positive inspection results help to improve your safety rating, you’ll get the green light to bypass more and more often.
Paying the toll
The cash tolls for the 241 miles of the Ohio Turnpike rose from 14 to almost 17 cents per mile on Oct. 1. Owner-operator Philip Kautz will avoid the hike because he’s running in the E-ZPass toll transponder network.
Ohio’s entry into the 16-state network of 25 different tolling agencies corresponded directly with the cash toll hike, and for E-ZPass haulers toll rates didn’t rise as an incentive to get on board. For toll-collecting states, automating the process saves them money, and in most states with an automated toll collection process, discounts of up to 10 percent are often available to users.