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.
Other discounts may be available as well. Large fleets can obtain discounts on tolls based on their use of the automated toll-road network in high volume. And PrePass offers the PrePass Plus system to fleet customers, aggregating weigh-station bypassing and toll-collection functionality into a single transponder per truck. For fleets of five or fewer trucks and owner-operators, though, the ability to reap the rewards of volume-discounted pricing was limited until recently.
Today, Kautz is a member of the BestPass network, with a weigh-station-bypassing/toll-collection “fusion” transponder in his truck. Running mainly between United Steel Deck facilities in Illinois and South Carolina and the Northeast, Kautz is able via BestPass to achieve volume discounts on tolls in three states, in addition to built-in E-ZPass discounts.
With BestPass, explains spokesperson Rebecca Paslowski, the fusion transponder is equipped with four services. “It comes programmed with the E-ZPass services,” she says, covering toll collection in 16 states in the Northeast, Midwest and mid-Atlantic as far west as Illinois and south to Virginia. She says it’s also compatible with PrePass, NorPass and NC Pass, North Carolina’s independent weigh-station service.
BestPass offers volume discounts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and either on the New York ThruWay or in Maryland, the latter two of which don’t have a companion account capability, meaning your account must be set up with one of them to get the volume discounts. BestPass customers like Kautz, then, depending on which state makes sense for them given the toll miles they run, have a choice of including one or the other in their BestPass volume discounts. When Maryland raised its tolls this year and New York raised the amount of bond required for toll postpayment (from $100 to more than $200, Kautz says), he switched to Maryland.
“With it being as quiet as it is now with freight, it was going to cost me more money in bonding in New York than I would get with discounts,” he says. The advantages in Maryland, though the state’s toll mileage is considerably less than the lengthy New York ThruWay, continued with great percentage discounts. “With Maryland, you get a 2.5 percent discount all the time with BestPass; if you do $100 worth for a month, it goes to 17 percent. With tolls going the way they’re going in Maryland, $100 isn’t hard to do anymore.”
One of the primary benefits of BestPass – and PrePass Plus for larger fleets – is in the ability for haulers to have a one-stop source for billing and service inquiries. In tolling, say Kautz and others, pre-paying multiple state toll authorities with E-ZPass can be an accounting nightmare. “Actually, I had E-ZPass before BestPass,” says Kautz. “What I like about BestPass is that I can postpay it. They would e-mail the bill at the end of the month and I would just send them one check to cover three tolls – the money was in my bank account instead of in theirs.”
BestPass “can also save you $5 a month on PrePass,” says Paslowski.
Implementation of open-road tolling is coming in more facilities, too, which makes transponders for tolls potential time-savers. FedEx White Glove Services owner-operator Phil Madsen points to new facilities on I-90 and elsewhere through metro Chicago that have been a big help for his time-sensitive straight-Class 8 expedited operation. n
Doing your own PrePass account
When owner-operator Micheal Duke, based in Norman, Okla., was a company driver with CRST Van Expedited, he wasn’t able to get a PrePass account. Once he transitioned to leasing a truck with CRST, he jumped to enroll in the PrePass weigh-station bypassing system.
He had the choice of maintaining his own PrePass account or allowing the fleet to administer it and deduct from his settlements $2 a month. He chose to save the couple of bucks and now pays the monthly $16 fee, which is billed to his credit card. “I can get online then and see on the PrePass website why I got red-lighted if I got pulled in,” he notes. “Usually, it’s because the rolling scale didn’t weigh you properly or they’re just doing random checks.”
Duke’s in a good position for bypasses, though: “I’ve never had a failed inspection,” he says.
A combo discount
Owner-operator Philip Kautz runs the BestPass fusion transponder, aggregating weigh-station bypassing and electronic toll collection in the E-ZPass network in one device. With BestPass, he’s also been able to achieve volume discounts in three E-ZPass states, which over the last year have amounted to more than $100 saved on the Pennsylvania Turnpike alone.
Pennsylvania Turnpike savings, October 2008-September 2009
Total tolls: $2,377
Tolls with BestPass
volume discount: – $2,258
Weight and toll bypass networks
While E-ZPass serves a network of Northeastern states with toll bypass systems, some other states also have individual toll networks, many equipped with collection technology made by TransCore, according to a USA Today story. Those include Texas, Georgia, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Washington. The technology exists to make these systems compatible, but the roadblocks to a nationwide toll-collection network have more to do with the lack of agreements between different toll authorities.
Bypass benefits for overweight haulers
Haulers of permitted oversize loads might not be the best customers for weigh-station bypassing technology. After all, says PrePass’ Richard Landis: “There’s currently not a good system for recording and keeping track of those permitted loads” that’s uniform from state to state.
Thus, “All of the states require them to stop.”
Some oversize haulers, though, see the benefits of using the transponders. Owner-operator Kevin Rutledge, running windmill blades in a 2007 Volvo VNL780 leased to oversize-specialist all-owner-operator carrier Daily Express, will always be pulled across state scales when loaded.
Still, “We have a 50 percent deadhead, bypassing four scales on the way back empty just in one trip.” That’s more than enough to justify the $16 monthly fee.
Landis says PrePass board members are trying to figure a way to accommodate oversize haulers under load. “There’s got to be a better way to do it,” he says.