This story appears in the November 14 print edition of iTECH, a supplement to Transport Topics.
Tolls and weigh stations add to the time and expense of moving freight, but technology-enabled services are helping fleets streamline these costs of doing business in trucking.
Collin Stewart, CEO of Phoenix-based Stewart Transport, said weigh-station bypass and toll-management systems can save his drivers upward of 20 minutes at scales while simplifying bookkeeping for his company’s back-office staff — areas where “you get that bang for your buck.”
The technology also serves as a driver recruiting tool for his 95-truck fleet, he said.
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One such system is the PrePass weigh-station bypass service from Help Inc., a nonprofit, public-private partnership known formally as Heavy-Vehicle Electronic License Plate Inc. Its PrePass Plus service also includes electronic toll payment.
Another provider, Bestpass, offers mainly toll-management services, expanding about five years ago from its beginnings as a pure toll-discount service.
Drivewyze Inc., meanwhile, serves the weigh-station bypass market with its PreClear service.
PrePass and Bestpass use transponders, which are small devices mounted to a truck’s windshield that wirelessly communicate the identity of the fleet, the truck and the rest of the customer account information to the weigh station or toll reader. In contrast, Drivewyze uses Apple and Android-based cellphones and tablets as well as truck telematics systems to accomplish similar functions.
So how much time and or money can all of this save fleets? Plenty, according to Help Inc. President Karen Rasmussen.
“We use the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration number, which they say is $8.68 per bypass, and that’s calculated from a study that was originally done by Iowa State University,” she said. “It looks at all of the aspects of fleet costs, the driver time, benefits, fuel, the whole nine yards.”
However, this figure is just a minimum based on saving five minutes, she said. When lines are even longer at weigh stations, the savings, in both time and money, are far greater.
Fleet savings for toll-management services also add up, Bestpass CEO John Andrews said.
While large carriers have enough volume to secure their own toll discounts, they still can benefit from Bestpass through back-office savings, he said.
“Those savings are anywhere between $3,000 and $6,000 per month in just the human labor it takes to manage a toll solution,” Andrews said. “The big carriers are coming to us for back-office pain. The small guys are coming to us to get the toll cost as low as possible.”
For an owner-operator, this can mean average savings of between $100 and $110 per month.
Although fleets can seek discounts on their own, it would require them to deal with multiple agencies that collect tolls and would not provide back-office support when there are problems, such as when incorrect toll payments arise.
Bestpass has about 240,000 active transponders in the field and processes $37 million in tolls monthly. For comparison, PrePass provides services to 550,000 trucks operated by more than 51,000 carriers.
Drivewyze, founded in 2010, has taken a decidedly different technological route for its weigh-station bypass service.
The company has no roadside infrastructure, according to Doug Johnson, director of marketing. That means you won’t see its equipment near weigh stations, such as overhead devices along roadways, and certainly not transponders inside trucks. Instead, it works by adding transponder-like functionality to cellphones, tablets and onboard telematics systems.
Drivewyze has “geomapped” weigh stations and inspection sites, so when a truck with a PreClear-equipped phone, tablet or telematics device approaches a site, the driver receives a notification that the truck is approaching such an area. As it gets closer, credential information is transmitted to the site, with the driver then getting a message as to whether he or she can bypass the site or needs to pull in for an inspection or weigh-in.
According to Johnson, Drivewyze has been able to grow so quickly — now with service in 36 states and 600 sites — because of the low cost of geomapping versus installing infrastructure. He also said that unlike competitive systems, drivers using PreClear don’t have to be in certain lanes along routes to get a possible bypass.
Johnson believes Drivewyze’s technology offers benefits over a transponder-based system such as PrePass from a management perspective, while eliminating concerns about transponders being damaged or failing.
“You don’t have to worry about any sort of that stuff with the Drivewyze service because it’s all delivered over the air as software,” he said.
Others, such as PrePass’ Rasmussen, disagree, saying transponders are much more reliable.
“It is the only device that links 99.9% of the time with weigh-in-motion scales,” she said. Cellular systems do not offer the same reliability, she said, based on independent testing.
Bestpass also places much faith in transponders, with Andrews, too, citing a 99.9% reliability rate. Transponders also negate the problem of drivers forgetting to log into their mobile phone or tablet applications, he said.
All three services operate by combining networks and technologies.
PrePass Plus handles tolls on the E-ZPass network, including California’s FasTrak, Florida’s SunPass and Kansas’ K-Tag. Networks in Texas and Oklahoma, TxTag and PikePass, respectively, are coming soon, the company said.
Bestpass also is on the E-ZPass network along with others, covering more than 40 tolling authorities and all major transponder-based weigh-station bypass providers, including PrePass. The idea, as Andrews put it, is “the elimination of multiple transponders on the windshield” — although multiple transponders, due to system incompatibility issues, may actually be contained inside a single device.
In other words, using these services results in one bill, one service provider and one place to call when there are questions or problems.
The private fleets of Foodliner and Quest Liner switched from E-ZPass to Bestpass a little more than a year ago, not only to manage toll data but also to eliminate separate accounts with different tolling authorities, said Timothy Stueck, chief financial officer at the McCoy Group Inc., which is the parent of Foodliner and Quest Liner.
“It’s allowed us to consolidate things into one nice web portal versus having all these little pockets of different tolling data,” he said. “We really feel that we’ve gained the most significant savings by allowing us to more easily manage that data and understand our entire tolling cost, versus having to try to consolidate multiple invoices or bills and then try and sort that data out.”
This also allows the company to better handle disputes over tolls, Stueck said, since it is dealing with a single provider. And Bestpass can catch issues such as overcharging or drivers using their trucks for personal conveyance that the fleet previously didn’t know about.
Drivewyze also has partners, working with telematics providers such as Omnitracs, PeopleNet, Rand McNally and Zonar to provide weigh-station bypasses. And while the company doesn’t offer a toll-management system, Drivewyze is considering adding it in the future. In addition, it offers analytics for its weigh-station bypass service.
Cumberland Farms, which operates 552 convenience stores and supplies them with its fleet of more than 130 tractors, signed up with Drivewyze shortly after becoming a PeopleNet customer.
Wayne Thornhill, director of petroleum transportation at Framingham, Massachusetts-based Cumberland Farms, said at first he was skeptical of the system, but eventually he was pleasantly surprised.
“There is a cost to adding this weigh-station bypass service,” he said. “But then I saw the number of hours and the number of inspections Drivewyze could help us avoid. When I took that time savings and plugged in our hourly rate, the potential savings I found that we could get with Drivewyze just blew me away.”
But how do any of these weigh-station bypass services determine who gets to drive past a weigh station or inspection site and which have to come in? Turns out it’s all in the numbers kept by Uncle Sam and government agencies.
Help Inc.’s Rasmussen said the key is relying on more than just databases such as FMCSA’s Safety and Fitness Electronic Records System (SAFER) or the Commercial Vehicle Information Exchange Window (CVIEW) system used by the states.
“We go out, and we actually purchase data from all of the states and the provinces that don’t upload to SAFER [or] only upload them periodically,” she said, adding that the company checks that data at least on a monthly basis so it has the most current data for its customers.
The better a carrier’s numbers in these systems, the more likely that drivers can stay on the road when they approach a weigh station rather than having to pull in.
To help carriers get a handle on how they are doing with safety inspections, Help Inc. last month took the wraps off its InfoRM business intelligence tool at American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition in Las Vegas.
InfoRM provides carriers with the information they need to better understand the anatomy of Inspection Selection System (ISS) scores. These scores are the key factor enforcement agencies use to determine which trucks to inspect and can affect which trucks can bypass weigh stations.
Mark Doughty, Help Inc.’s chief operating officer, said the goal is not only to give carriers access to their safety data but also to identify trends to help them improve their ISS scores.
PrePass safety and bypass data has always been available to customers, but InfoRM takes all that information and aggregates it into a user-friendly format, the company said.
Help Inc. is rolling out InfoRM in a limited release, with a full launch scheduled for the first quarter.
The move follows Bestpass’ announcement in July that it launched a new web portal to help its customers more efficiently manage their fleets, as well as to access advanced tolling and trucking analytics and reporting.
My.bestpass.com provides on-demand reporting, self-serve transponder ordering, and vehicle, license plate and transponder management.
“For a fleet manager with hundreds of vehicles incurring tolling fees with dozens of tolling groups, having all of that data in one place is invaluable, saving countless hours in the back office and allowing the manager to make more strategic decisions,” Andrews said. ³