HELP Inc. is the oldest transportation public/private partnership in the United States and is a 501(c)(3) non-profit partnership governed by an equal number of public sector and trucking industry representatives. HELP’s mission, vision and core values were created with the mindset to save time, fuel and money for our partners.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is HELP Inc. and what is its relationship to PrePass?
HELP Inc. – Heavy-vehicle Electronic License Plate, or HELP – is a non-profit public/private partnership formed to improve highway safety and efficiency. Both HELP and its PrePass service can trace their origins to a multi-year truck safety demonstration program that began in the mid-1980s. The demonstration program was known as the Crescent Project, in which innovative state DOT directors and trucking executives sought a way to pre-screen and weigh qualified, safe commercial trucks at highway speeds, providing efficiencies to both the trucking industry and state enforcement agencies.
The Crescent Project involved the states of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington, and the province of British Columbia. The results of the Crescent Project ultimately led to the creation of HELP Inc. and the launch of the PrePass service. Today, HELP Inc.’s PrePass e-screening and weigh station bypass, coupled with its PrePass Plus toll management system, represent not only North America’s largest truck safety pre-clearance service but also the nation’s largest vehicle-to infrastructure (v2i) program.
2. Why was HELP Inc. created?
One of the hurdles that confronted participants at the very beginning of the Crescent Project was how to overcome an inherent distrust that existed between public agencies (operators of the infrastructure, such as departments of transportation) and industry (trucking companies and drivers). The public sector feared some truckers might abuse a bypass system, while truckers held deep-seated concerns that by voluntarily enrolling in and being qualified for the bypass program, they would be subject to greater scrutiny than their non-participating competitors.
Also, at the time the project was getting underway, nearly all of the participating states levied a weight-distance tax against truckers based on the miles traveled within those states and the tonnage of the freight being hauled. Companies participating in the program feared that they would be subject to a higher level of enforcement than their non-participating competitors, who would find it much easier to evade the taxes. Also, organizers wondered, how would such a system – dependent upon truckers voluntarily enrolling and allowing themselves to be put under a microscope – create and continue to maintain a balance between safety and efficiency?
The answer was to create an objective third-party entity – the non-profit 501(c)(3) HELP Inc., managed by a public/private Board of Directors and a professional staff – to provide the objectivity and strict adherence to standards of safe and efficient operation.
3. How do HELP’s initiatives benefit both the public and the private sector?
HELP’s primary mission is the improvement of truck safety throughout North America through policies that also promote efficiencies within the motor carrier industry. These policies are developed by a board of directors that includes an equal number of public officials and commercial trucking representatives. Working through its policy committees, the HELP Board reviews and makes decisions on authorizing new PrePass sites; ensuring that carrier data used to e-screen and render the bypass decision remains private and secure; ensuring that HELP’s programs and services maintain a true balance between safety and efficiency; deciding whether to invest in new technologies or services for state partners and motor carrier customers; and a host of other decisions that affect the safe operation of commercial vehicles throughout North America.
4. Can any carrier or driver enroll in PrePass?
Any carrier can voluntarily enroll and agree to be pre-screened for bypass. However, only carriers with good safety records and all credentials current will be authorized to bypass PrePass-equipped weigh stations, ports of entry, scale facilities and agricultural interdiction sites.
5. What databases are used to determine whether a carrier’s vehicles are qualified to bypass?
The data rules overseen by the Board of Directors require HELP to utilize only the most current, most accurate data sets to electronically screen carriers and determine their fitness to bypass. As a result, HELP not only checks standard data uploaded by participating states to SAFER (carrier records maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration), but goes well beyond that. HELP regularly purchases data from states and provinces as it becomes available to acquire carrier data that states do not upload, utilizing both electronic and manual processes, if necessary, to ensure that only the most current data goes into the bypass decision.
6. Does HELP report carrier PrePass data to state enforcement agencies?
No. The data upon which HELP’s electronic technology bases its bypass decision is the carrier’s data and, once it is aggregated into the PrePass Credentialing Database, is subject to HELP’s data privacy rules. If a vehicle receives a red light and the driver is instructed to pull in for further action, the officer at the site can review the data on that vehicle/carrier to determine whether additional enforcement is required. HELP also does not time or date stamp bypasses or toll transactions, and all carrier PrePass transaction data is automatically purged after 90 days.
7. Are there any situations in which HELP releases carrier data to enforcement agencies?
HELP is authorized and obligated to report carrier data to a state or federal enforcement agency when a vehicle/driver is the subject of a criminal investigation, when there is sufficient probable cause to believe a vehicle/driver is carrying drugs or other contraband, when a vehicle/driver is involved in a hit-and-run and other such instances. HELP’s Data Task Force and Board of Directors continually review data privacy laws and rulings to ensure that its actions protect individual privacy while supporting critical enforcement actions.
8. Does HELP collect and report driver data?
HELP’s data privacy policies, along with federal and state privacy regulations, prevent the collection and dissemination by HELP of any driver’s Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
9. What does it cost participating states to deploy PrePass?
In most cases, HELP deploys PrePass at no cost to the states. Since 1993, HELP has invested more than $600 million in private capital to develop, maintain and continuously improve PrePass sites and provide the technology systems and customer service required to meet the needs of our large customer base of 32 states and over 524,000 trucks from more than 46,000 fleets. As of August 2015, there are over 310 PrePass-equipped sites, with additional sites in development.
10. Why does HELP continue to deploy transponders instead of using cell technology?
Several years ago HELP developed and extensively tested its enterprise mobile bypass application, which is available to carriers that request it. However, in surveys and multiple focus groups of PrePass customers, we learned that carriers are working hard to limit distractions within the cab and are acutely aware of the dangers and illegality of sanctioning the use of hand-held devices while a truck is moving. They told us they prefer the reliability and 99.9% accuracy that the transponder provides, as well as the device’s superior security and safety. Secondly, transponders are the mainstay of electronic toll payment throughout the U. S. and globally because they provide the greatest reliability and efficiency. Transponders are also the technology selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation for the connected vehicle program.
11. What exactly is PrePass Plus?
This highly valued carrier service was implemented by HELP at the request of PrePass customers more than a decade ago. Our advanced fusion transponder allows carriers that wish to electronically pay tolls to do so on more than 80 tolling facilities and at hundreds of toll plazas throughout the U.S. Customers receive one invoice for both tolls and bypass services through their HELP/PrePass account, and all toll reconciliation and dispute resolution is handled quickly and efficiently by our customer service division. In addition, Plus customers can access their toll transactions on a daily basis so that toll costs can be billed real-time to shippers. Any carrier can enroll in PrePass Plus toll only service, but must qualify through e-screening to receive bypass privileges.
12. What are the key benefits of PrePass to drivers and trucking companies?
Without exception, our customers tell us the biggest benefit is the time saved by being able to bypass scales and inspection facilities. Both federal government and academic studies peg the minimum cost of pulling into a weigh-station or scale at $8.68, and that’s just for static weighing or a credential check. In today’s operating environment just a few minutes out of operation can make the difference between getting home or spending mandated time off in a sleeper berth. Bypassing weigh stations also saves fuel, reduces wear and tear on the truck, and provides both environmental and congestion-mitigation benefits.
Perspectives on HELP’s First Chapter
by Dr. Mike Walton, University of Texas-Austin and Adviser to HELP Inc.
Dr. Mike Walton
HELP’s 20th Anniversary celebration in August 2013 was a significant milestone in the life of what was arguably the nation’s first public-private transportation partnership. Looking back, I had the privilege to be there at the beginning, when a group of transportation directors and trucking company executives began to talk about a way to use technology to weigh trucks at highway speeds and allow the safe, compliant ones to bypass weigh stations. But even before the establishment of HELP, a lot of work, research, discussion and even a few shouting matches took place over several years.
The early days were challenging, but also exciting. Both the challenge and excitement came from creating a shared vision between two groups that initially had suspicions about each other’s motives – motor carriers and the enforcement officials that regulate them.
Suspicions were great in no small part because the two founding states (Arizona and Oregon) were both weight-distance tax states. Some carriers feared the Crescent Project might just be a way for technology to create a better and more effective way of collecting those taxes, subjecting those who volunteered to participate in the newly envisioned pre-clearance program to a higher level of scrutiny, while those that did not participate would be less likely to be subject to additional enforcement.
Creating that shared vision was the reason the Crescent Research Project was born. With leadership from Arizona and Oregon, states forming a west-coast geographic crescent from British Columbia and Washington through Texas joined together, pooled their research funds and secured a grant from the Federal Highway Administration so the capabilities of different technologies could be tested (and developed where needed). The ultimate goal of the Crescent Project was to identify ways to create productivity and efficiencies for both groups..
Significant portions of the state and federal funds that went in to the Crescent Project were invested in technology testing: Is automatic vehicle identification possible? Can trucks be classified and weighed in motion? What are best technical options for doing each?
In the beginning the carrier and public sector groups met separately to review and assess findings and recommendations. At the request of motor carriers, the Western Highway Institute (WHI) was retained to provide guidance to the studies being performed by various technical groups such as Lockheed Martin, TRW, Phillips, Ford Motor, IBM and others in support of the technologies.
For the Crescent Project some days were good. Others were not, as the goal of creating that shared vision proved elusive.
While there was no real seminal moment in the shared vision process, participants eventually recognized that there was too much to gain not to lay suspicions aside and move forward. The process of collaboration began to merge the mutual interests of the two major groups.
The work really got underway in earnest as carriers and state officials began the process of coming to agreement on a service that was technically feasible and that added significant value to both groups.
In the end, pre-clearance was selected over a variety of other potential services because it delivered value to all and was deemed to be readily achievable.
With a shared vision and probable service offering in hand, the Crescent Project was brought to completion and reported to the U.S. Department of Transportation a recommendation to move forward with a pre-clearance program.
USDOT’s response – that federal money was not available for ITS deployment – resulted in the creation of non-profit public-private partnership HELP Incorporated, and its alliance with a venture firm to develop and deploy what today we know as PrePass.
There were a great many other hurdles along the way, but the highest hurdle our organization needed to climb was the creation of the shared vision we still share today.