By Karen Rasmussen, Chief Executive Officer, HELP Inc.
In 1993 the world of trucking and commercial motor vehicle enforcement changed forever and for the better.
For trucking, this year meant that trucks from qualified motor carriers could begin officially bypassing scales and inspection sites, saving time and fuel, and helping their drivers meet delivery schedules. For commercial motor vehicle safety, the year 1993 meant that enforcement and compliance agencies’ attention could be focused on vehicles and drivers who might otherwise have a problem down the road, while pre-cleared carriers moved on by, on their way to make their deliveries safely and on time.
Now in 2018, HELP Inc., the provider of the PrePass bypass program and other safety services, celebrates 25 years of meeting the safety and efficiency goals shared by trucking and government agencies responsible for commercial motor vehicle enforcement and infrastructure protection.
Today, HELP provides PrePass at 313 fixed, operational sites in 31 states. These are sites that are staffed and operational, providing real bypasses. Another 25 fixed sites are in various stages of planning and construction and hundreds of mobile sites will be announced soon. In addition, HELP’s partnership with the NORPASS and Oregon Green Light bypass systems provides carriers bypass opportunities at an additional 44 sites. More than 585,000 trucks from over 61,000 qualified fleets participate in PrePass today.
Over the years, PrePass has generated 8.8 million successful bypasses, saving the trucking industry an estimated $6.2 billion based on a cost algorithm utilized by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. All of this is possible because of HELP’s investment of over $700 million to develop a nationwide full-service bypass system – $157 million of it in roadside enforcement infrastructure – at no cost to jurisdictions. In addition, over 187,000 trucks in HELP’s PrePass Plus system enjoy streamlined toll payments at 2,620 locations across 48 toll authorities, while thousands of fleets utilize the in-depth data analytics of INFORM Safety and INFORM Tolling software.
PrePass is the most-utilized electronic bypass system in North America – but getting there has required even more than the 25 years HELP itself has been in existence.
Back in the mid-1980s, innovative leaders from state transportation agencies and the trucking industry in a band of western states and British Columbia sought common ground between government and industry in the midst of federal and state deregulation of trucking, a divisive topic for industry participants. In those days, the truck licensing and fuel tax agreements, which later evolved into the International Registration Plan (IRP) and the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA), were in their infancy.
Much of the dialogue and discussion of how best to regulate the industry post-deregulation was led by proponents of ton-mile or weight-distance taxes on trucks, a taxation method detested by compliant trucking companies because they saw their competitors easily evading these taxes. Thus, highway taxation was not a potential area of agreement. As a member of the leadership staff at the California Trucking Association during that time, I saw first-hand the concerns expressed by compliant companies. But both government and industry shared a critical common goal: highway safety. Both were experiencing inefficiencies at ports of entry and weight/inspection facilities. That goal became the focus of a demonstration program, one that would pre-screen and weigh qualified, safe commercial trucks at highway speeds.
Known as the Crescent Project, the highly successful demonstration program was overseen by a loose-knit coalition of industry and government representatives from Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Washington and British Columbia. During the two-and-a-half years of the project, industry and government participants worked cooperatively together and overcame much of the distrust that existed between them at the beginning of the program.
But when the bypass technology system moved past the demonstration phase, the coalition determined it would be best to create an objective third-party entity, one that would balance safety and efficiency, and be charged with ensuring carriers adhered to strict safety and credentialing standards. Thus, HELP Inc. (Heavy-vehicle Electronic License Plate, Inc.) was born.
HELP Inc. was one of the first and remains arguably one of the most successful public/private partnerships in transportation. HELP’s public and private partners have a shared vision:
Achieving safe, secure and seamless commercial vehicle operations across North America’s highway system. Through widespread use of advanced technologies, both carriers and government agencies will increase regulatory compliance, while also saving time and money; and reduce congestion, delays and environmental impacts.
Implementing that vision are three core tenets at HELP:
- HELP Inc. remains a fully compliant 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity as designated by the Internal Revenue Service.
- HELP is not driven by profit but is an entity whose every action must support its tax-exempt mission of safety.
- HELP Inc. is governed by a board composed of equal numbers from public agencies and trucking industry representatives, providing a critical balance between safety and efficiency.
Since 1993, the U.S. population has grown from 259.9 million to 326.8 million, the U.S. gross domestic product has increased from $6.88 trillion to $18.57 trillion, and the number of motor carriers and number of trucks have each tripled, with overall truck mileage nearly doubling.
Imagine the challenge faced today by commercial motor vehicle enforcement and compliance agencies without an accepted means to screen and identify the safe carriers and drivers from others that may need attention. Imagine the delays faced in today’s just-in-time economy by fleets and drivers without an accepted means to legally and safely bypass scales and inspections. That is the safety and efficiency challenge HELP Inc. and its PrePass system have met for 25 years, serving both the trucking industry and commercial motor vehicle enforcement and compliance.
And what about the next 25 years? The HELP Inc. vision speaks to achieving its safety and efficiency goals through the use of advanced technologies. HELP Inc. is already at work on the future – a future where government and industry will continue working together as one to achieve those goals.