Weigh stations. Every motor carrier, regardless of size, must deal with them. They are scattered across most major U.S. highways. They can also be found in Canada and around other parts of the globe. But why do trucks need to constantly be weighed? Furthermore, with the advancement of technological innovations in trucking, what should a trucking company consider if they intend on selecting a weigh station bypass system?
The Skinny on Weigh Stations
Truck weigh stations were initially developed for states to collect fuel taxes they were owed by commercial motor vehicle operators utilizing their roadways. Although that was the original intent, weigh stations are no longer used for this purpose. An international fuel tax agreement has negated that states purpose. Today, weigh stations are used to enforce weight restrictions and act as a point for inspections.
The federal weight restriction on commercial motor vehicles has been 80,000 pounds for quite a long time. For a tractor to exceed that restriction, it must have a special permit. Weigh stations can be pretty high-tech, utilizing either “weigh-in-motion” (WIM) technology or standard stop-and-weigh systems.
Weigh-in-motion tech allows truckers to drive over a scale that is built into the side of the road. The scale is generally set up a mile or so before the weigh station. Once the tractor drives over the scale, the weight of the vehicle, trucking company history, and other details will make an instant determination on whether that truck needs to actually stop at the weigh station or not.
Some truckers also use transponders in their vehicles, which allows them to skip the weigh station. If they get a green light on their transponder, they can move on. Red lights mean they must pull in and get checked. So, with technological advances growing unabated, what should a trucking company consider when they select a weigh station bypass system.
Why Weigh Station Bypass Systems Are So Important
Transporting freight from Point A to Point B often comes with delays, whether it be weather, road conditions, unexpected accidents, or other activity that could impact the delivery schedule. Weigh station bypass systems give you some measure of control and in some cases even provide you with the ability to control some of these factors.
What if you could significantly reduce the number of times you have to stop at a weigh station, or bypass toll payment booths, or get discounts for each time one of our tractors go through a payment booth? Consider that trucking companies who use weigh station bypass services save over $8.00 each time their vehicle bypasses a weigh station, not to mention the time saved not having to stop for five to ten minutes at a clip.
There are two types of weigh station bypass systems that fleets should consider when they evaluate whether to employ one. The first is a radio frequency (RFID) that utilizes a transponder mounted on the inside of the windshield that specifies the vehicle in use. The other is a type of system that utilizes Commercial Mobile Radio Service (CMRS) technologies. This system runs off a cellular system paired with in-cab, tablet and/or cell technologies.
Specific Considerations in Selecting Bypass System
Since each system operates slightly differently, what works well for one fleet may not work so well for another. Owner-operators also work with a unique set of rules and needs. The first thing to consider is that not all bypass technology platforms are created equal. The major differentiating factor between RFID and CMRS systems revolves around how the data is transmitted.
RFID systems can be relied upon to transmit and receive data with nearly 100% accuracy. Alternatively, CMRS signals, since they rely on cellular technology, could drop the signal or be negatively affected by weather, terrain, how many towers a service provider has in a particular area, or other factors.
If a truck is using a CMRS bypass system and loses connection, it could be that they do not connect to the bypass signal, thus negating the usefulness of the system. Signal latency is another problem with CMRS systems. Signal latency refers to transmission delays between cellular signals. RFID systems do not have latency issues because the radio signal is transmitted between truck and weigh station with in fractions of a second.
On the flipside, RFID systems require a lot of site infrastructure, which makes installing these systems expensive to build. Therefore, if a weigh station has less traffic or is in a rural area, it is likely that they may not offer RFID bypassing as an option. Where cellular reception is good, CMRS systems can geo-fence through a weigh station with no additional infrastructure required.
Evaluating Risk and Reward Depending on the System
One of the most obvious considerations when evaluating a weigh station bypass service provider should be the number of service locations in the network. While there is some variance in how this is measured, a little research should help a fleet make the proper decision.
First, it is important to look at the type of weigh station. Fixed open weigh stations are permanent facilities that regularly operate around the clock. Mobile stations are described as ones set up along a highway or other location by law enforcement. When making the determination, you’ll want to evaluate where your trucks operate in relation to where the fixed open weigh stations are. Since you cannot control where mobile sites pop up, there is no point to including them within your evaluation parameters.
Make sure to ask any vendors you are considering if they are claiming closed sites or mobile sites when they are pitching their product to you. If the weigh station is closed or you cannot determine where it will be from one point to the next, the evaluation is largely pointless.
Also consider what we were talking about early on, weigh-in-motion scales. WIMs are extremely reliable and better suited to communicating with RFID-based bypass systems. Matches are correct 99.9% of the time.
Operating with Safety Data in Mind
Consider that weigh station bypass systems do more than just save time and money. Comprehensive bypass systems also come with built-in reporting tools, which allow a fleet to improve safety across the operational spectrum. Some bypass systems report a motor carrier’s Inspection Selection System (ISS) score, which can yield big dividends when it comes to the number of times a truck is inspected or allowed to bypass a weigh station. These systems allow fleet managers to make real-time, data-driven decisions. Imagine being able to find out the specific types of inspections your vehicles are failing. You can even see if the inspections are done at a weigh station or on the roadside.
Having actionable information that can be utilized in real-time helps you quickly respond to changing needs and dramatically reshape how many times your truck is pulled over for an inspection. These tools are very useful for both large and small motor carriers.
Fleets can also use safety intelligence data gathered using these systems to negotiate lower insurance rates, realize improved maintenance outcomes, and create stronger relationships with law enforcement professionals. If you are going to invest in a weigh station bypass system, why not select one that does more than help you bypass the weigh station. In the age of integrated telematics, there is no reason why a fleet should not invest in a solution that includes more than just a simple bypass.
Paying Tolls and Finding Third-Party Solutions
RFID bypass systems also allow fleets to integrate electronic toll payment capabilities within the system. In some cases, a fleet can even integrate the weigh station transponder with the toll payment transponder. This prevents the need for different transponders for different tolling agencies.
You may think that this is unnecessary if your operation rarely must pay tolls, but just consider the current infrastructure plan being proposed. It relies on underwritten private investment paid through interstate highway tolls. State and local highway revenues have already dumped dramatically in the past 20 years, with revenues climbing more than 50 percent.
The question is, do you want to be caught unprepared if you wind up in a situation where tolls are suddenly something you must deal with, but you chose not to invest in a bypass solution where tolls could be quickly and easily paid electronically.
Time is money. If you don’t select a weigh station bypass system that saves you one or both, you are not doing yourself any favors. If one bypass alone saves over $8.00, a fleet with just a few hundred trucks can see savings in the six figures over the lifetime of their system.
When making your choice between CMRS and RFID, make sure to do your homework and find a solution that is right for your operation. The last thing you want to do is invest in a system that winds up doing you little-to-no favors over the long run. Be prepared for the future, no matter what happens.