(Photo by Scott Welton, Staff)
PrePass, the electronic program that allows participating truck operators to be pre-screened as they approach weigh stations, has been up and running at the Charleston and Caruthersville weigh stations since October. The system is slated to be implemented at Steele this year, according to Missouri Department of Transportation officials.
With the PrePass system, sensors at equipped weigh stations verify whether the driver has a satisfactory safety rating and is current on registration fees, fuel taxes and insurance.
The information is passed along to a small transponder attached to the driver's windshield. Drivers see a green light or red light on the in-cab device and hear a tone inside telling them to pass or stop.
The PrePass locations operating in Missouri so far have weigh-in-motion scales installed enabling them to also weigh trucks before they are allowed to pass. If the station is closed or everything checks out, drivers get a green light and keep traveling normal speed past the weigh station.
With the PrePass system, drivers typically only have to pull over for one out of every three open weigh stations.
Mike Boese, dispatcher for Pullen Bros. Inc., said the company's trucks were equipped over the last year. "All of ours - like 150," Boese said. "The drivers like it - it's really convenient for them."
"I like it - I'm satisfied with it," said Jerry Pullen of Pullen Bros. Inc. He added that there was no installation cost and that at any time his company can stop participating in the program simply by boxing up the units and sending them back.
To help recover the $10 million cost, motor carriers are charged 99 cents each time they are green-lighted to bypass an open weigh station up to a maximum of $3.96 per day. "They work on percentages," Pullen said, with the computer randomly selecting which trucks must pull in.
Even though the monthly PrePass bill for a fleet the size of Pullen's typically runs around $1,200-$1,300 per month, he said by the time you figure in the cost of a truck slowing down, waiting in line for the scale, and then getting back up to speed, the convenience of skipping a weigh station stop is easily worth the cost if not more.
Pullen said trucking companies must maintain a satisfactory rating from the Department of Transportation to stay eligible for the program. "We work hard at it in order to keep a satisfactory rating," Boese confirmed.
MoDOT reported in their March newsletter that the Highway Patrol is finding the new system efficient and a manpower saver.
"We feel it has helped with crowding at the weigh stations and with backups onto the interstate," said Sgt. Larry Plunkett of the MSHP for the MoDOT article. "We're working now to get everyone used to the new procedures."
Pullen agreed that reducing the number of trucks pulling on and off the highway for the weigh stations should result in safer highways.
MoDOT officials predict that by avoiding future rehabilitation costs for weigh stations to extend entry and exit ramps, upgrade static scales and make other replacement and rehabilitation efforts, additional state money - perhaps as much as $40 million in future costs - will be saved by using this program.
"Besides having safer traveling conditions and getting their goods quicker, taxpayers will also benefit because it will be easier for the state to identify the trucks that don't comply with insurance, tax and weight standards, said Kevin Keith, MoDOT's chief engineer, in a press release. "This saves the state time and resources because as enforcement staff will be allowed to concentrate their attention on non-compliant commercial carriers and won't have to check all trucks."
The PrePass system operates in 23 other states including Kansas and Illinois with about 190,000 trucks registered nationally to use the technology.
The system is operated by Heavy Vehicle Electronic License Plate Inc., a non-profit partnership between motor carriers and government agencies funded from revenues generated from services offered to motor carriers.
HELP provides the state with computer hardware, transponder readers, high-speed weigh-in-motion scales, vehicle classifiers and database and technical support at the 19 Missouri locations at no cost.