Electronic scale bypass systems

Conducted by the university's Kentucky Transportation Center, the presentation compares the Prepass system of HELP, Inc., and the soon-to-be merged MAPS and Mainline Automated Clearance System (MACS) of Advantage CVO.

Both systems are designed to improve traffic flow and prevent accidents by allowing truckers who have recently weighed their load to pass subsequent stations without having to stop. As of Oct. 1, 11 states were members of the HELP program and ten states were members of Advantage CVO and/or MAPS programs.

The presentation was originally compiled in the fall of 1997, when the center (which was placed in charge of the "Advantage I-75" project) was approached by HELP and MAPS. At that time, the Advantage I-75 policy committee did some comparison and formulated the presentation. According to Don Hartman, transportation program manager for the Kentucky Transportation Center, the information was updated in October and presented to a group of states at a meeting in Atlanta.

Perhaps the most controversial portion of  the presentation is the cost analysis

The study shows that the total cost of both programs will increase as the number of sites   increase.

The comparison of the two bypass systems examines several factors, including number and location of operational sites, compatibility between existing preclearance systems, and each system's policy regarding whether or not they will release truck information collected by transponders.

"To my knowledge, this is an area that no one has looked at," says Joe Crabtree, the Kentucky Transportation Center's ITS program manager. "The (information) could potentially be very eye-opening."

According to the scenarios presented, the HELP program receives an overwhelming majority of its funding from the trucking industry, with the state responsible for only a membership fee and a small charge for site installation. By contrast, the Advantage/MAPS system, when merged, will seek its funding in nearly equal portions from both truck owners and the state in which the program is being implemented. The study shows that the HELP program is of much greater cost to the trucking industry, while Advantage/MAPS will distribute the costs almost evenly between the industry and the state.

This controversial conclusion is based on both fact and assumption.

The study points out that HELP charges a 99-cent transaction fee for every green light a driver receives at a weigh station. The fees are capped at $3.96 per day per truck. A maximum cost per truck would be approximately $1,200 per year for one truck (this is based on the assumption that a truck will receive at least four "go-ahead" green lights per day, six days per week, 50 weeks per year).

Because HELP's parent company (Lockheed Martin) covers the cost of system installation, the state is free from these charges. Installing one HELP bypass system at one weigh station, then, would require the state to cover only the infrastructure changes (estimated at $60,000).

In the case of Advantage/MAPS, however, the projected cost is based upon the assumption that the merger will bring about an annual administrative fee of approximately $45 per truck (Advantage CVO currently has no fees). The estimated installation of one system at one weigh station would cost the state $150,000 for equipment, infrastructure changes, and installation.

Equally as controversial is the idea that as the number of sites increase, one bypass program becomes more and more expensive (in terms of total annual cost) than the other.

The increase, however, is disproportionate. The HELP program, the study shows, grows at a much larger rate.

The first scenario (in which only one site would be installed) estimates the total annual cost of Advantage/MAPS to be $108,000. For HELP, the estimated annual cost is $271,000 - more than twice as costly as is the Advantage/MAPS program.

In the presentation's "Typical State Scenario #3" (which looks at the installation of 16 sites), Advantage/MAPS carries a total estimated cost of $1,683,000. The HELP program's total projected cost is $9,576,000 - more than five times higher than Advantage/MAPS.

Crabtree says the 16-site scenario is not far-fetched. Both Kentucky and Georgia utilize 16 electronic bypass sites.

"I wasn't surprised by the allocation of costs," he says. "I knew, based on previous analyses that the industry carried the load. But I was surprised by the magnitude in the difference of total cost between the two."

The transportation center's research has received criticism for its assumptions, however. Because Advantage CVO and MAPS have yet to merge (as of Land Line's publication deadline), the projected costs per truck are based on the assumption that once the merger takes place, a simple $45 annual administrative fee will be adopted.

Likewise, the study assumes in each of its scenarios that HELP system users will pass through at least four bypass sites, six days a week, at the same fee per truck. And because the total fees are capped after four passes, these projected costs are at a maximum.

Don Hartman, Kentucky Transportation Center program manager, admits that there are faults with some of the assumptions made.

Part of the problem is that one size doesn't fit all," says Hartman. "HELP has different deals with different states. They're not all the same."

Richard Landis, executive director of HELP, Inc. was less than impressed with the means by which conclusions were drawn in the presentation. He calls it "very faulty."

"The assumptions are anything but real world (information)," he says. "The figures are not accurate. (The presentation) comes from a university. I would hope that they would do better research."

Crabtree also acknowledges that portions were based on guesswork, but defends the study.

"It's difficult to do an apples-to-apples comparison," he says. "We had to make some assumptions. We'd like to get the information out, and there are two reasons why. First, because if our analysis is off, people can contact us and let us know. And second, because this is a valuable tool in decision making for those considering one of these two programs."

Landis says if a group would like to "seriously compare" some figures to achieve more accurate results, he would be willing to provide the information as time permits. He says the presentation is not damaging to HELP or Lockheed Martin.

"Our customers are the best people in the business, and they like our program because it works." LL

 -Jason Cisper