The rising toll of ignoring tolls

Iteris (www.iteris.com) announced that five commercial truck fleets – Pohl Transportation, Woodfield Inc., Alan Ritchie Inc., Overnight Express and O & S Trucking – representing more than 1,100 trucks will install its Lane Departure Warning (LDW) technology on new truck purchases.

PeopleNet (www.peoplenetonline.com) announced that F.T. Silfies, a mid-Atlantic regional dry bulk carrier that specializes in bulk cement transport, has installed its tracking and mobile communications system throughout the carrier’s fleet of 161 trucks.

@Road (www.road.com) said it was selected as the supplier of mobile resource management (MRM) solutions by The ServiceMaster Company. ServiceMaster initially plans to deploy @Road MRM solutions in its Terminix business unit to provide branch managers with greater location intelligence and visibility of about 6,000 field personnel.

GeoLogic Solutions (www.gogeologic.com) announced that 15 new customers recently signed contracts to purchase its MobileMax wireless asset management solution.

PierPASS Inc. (www.pierpass.org), a not-for-profit company created by marine terminal operators at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, in March plans to launch the TruckTag program, which aims to enhance terminal security through radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to help identify trucks and drivers entering terminals. Marine terminal operators will cover the $1.2 million estimated cost of distributing 10,000 RFID tags.

As if fuel taxes aren’t taxing enough, states also use tolls as a primary revenue source to fund their highway projects – and those charges continue to increase, especially for commercial vehicles. The Northeast offers the most striking examples: In May 2005, the New York Thruway – the largest toll system in the United States with 641 miles of toll roads – increased commercial vehicle fees 35 percent.

Managing the growing cost of tolls isn’t necessarily an administrative burden. But simply padding your rates with estimates of toll costs – as either a flat or per-mile rate – is no longer adequate, especially when shippers are working harder to manage their expenses. That’s why a growing number of carriers, using various solutions from software vendors, have developed much more sophisticated and accurate methods to cover their exposure to toll costs.

In November 2004, Clarksville, Ind.-based Summitt Trucking began a project to better manage its toll costs, says Daniel McKinnon, the carrier’s director of information technology. Summitt Trucking began by purchasing ALK Technologies’ Tolls module for its PC*Miler routing, mapping and mileage software. McKinnon then designed a spreadsheet application for the sales and operations personnel of the 500-truck company to use for quoting rates and settling contracts with customers.

The application pulls data from the PC*Miler database through a special connectivity product called PC*Miler|Spreadsheets. Users type a starting and ending ZIP code, as well as the number of stops and ZIP codes for each one, into the spreadsheet application. The application pings the PC*Miler server, which generates an optimal route – complete with toll costs.

The data flows back into the Excel spreadsheet in an easy-to-read layout for customers, McKinnon says. Columns for each rate quote show the fuel surcharge, stop charges, tolls, miles and other pertinent items. When customers sign the sheet, Summitt Trucking enters the agreed-upon data from the spreadsheet into its enterprise software system.

“When [customers] come back to us and ask ‘What’s this tolls charge?’ we refer them back to the spreadsheet they signed and agreed to,” McKinnon says. “We don’t pull that figure out of our hat. That number was generated by ALK.”

Just as fleets include fuel surcharges as separate line items in quotes and invoices, the practice of “breaking out tolls” in rates and contracts is becoming more common in the industry, says Ed Siciliano, vice president of sales and marketing for ALK Technologies.
“The industry is moving more toward less blended transportation rates,” he says. “[The practice] provides good negotiation in sales value and to get new business.”

The practice also is becoming mandatory to do business with some shippers, as a growing number of shippers are using software such as PC*Miler’s Tolls module to audit the toll costs charged by carriers. “As they start to adopt the technology, they start demanding exact toll rates,” Siciliano says.

Besides providing customers with more information, fleets also are using mapping and mileage software systems to reduce costs.

For example, the current version of ProMiles XF mileage and routing software takes into account the different toll discounts and prices in toll programs for weight class and axle counts. Users generating a route also can activate a feature called “reduced toll” that will eliminate toll roads from a route – as far as it is practical to do so in terms of the added time and mileage to avoid toll roads, says Chris Lee, vice president of marketing for ProMiles.

Besides factoring toll costs into route optimization programs, some fleets use mapping and mileage software systems to audit their toll costs as calculated by automated toll collection systems such as E-ZPass.

“A big concern is that you can’t trust those systems,” Siciliano says. For example, if a truck passes through a toll plaza and authorities don’t get a good read from an E-ZPass transponder, they may charge a fare for the entire length of the toll road.

Some carriers use PC*Miler’s Tolls module to compare E-ZPass transactions to the correct toll costs for a route, as calculated by PC*Miler. Inter-Tax, a provider of fuel tax outsourcing services, has developed a module to audit a fleet’s toll costs automatically, Siciliano says. Inter-Tax takes a truck’s position history file – compiled by a satellite tracking system – and runs it through PC*Miler’s toll “engine.” The fleet gets a report that compares their E-ZPass statement to the actual routes traveled with the proper distance and toll costs.

As concerns over cost and expectations for transparency grow, carriers no longer can brush aside the cost of tolls or use estimates in freight contracts. If you pay the toll, you need to account for it.


Symbol unveils the MC70
Symbol Technologies has introduced the MC70 mobile computer, a rugged Enterprise Digital Assistant (EDA) offering multi-mode communications – including cellular voice/data communications, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth – to enable real-time access to people, information and critical business applications.

Targeted to the growing mobile enterprise market, the MC70 EDA combines a rugged mobile computer and technologies for image or laser data capture with wide-area connectivity for voice and data. The MC70 EDA is lightweight, ergonomic and designed to withstand the rigors of everyday use in a variety of environments, the company says. The new device is intended for a variety of industries, including field service, field sales, transportation and logistics.

The MC70 EDA mobile computer is based on the latest Intel XScale processor and the Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system.