New online system for motor carrier permits to save time and money

Freight-background2Anyone who has traveled on an Iowa interstate knows there is a significant amount of freight traveling by truck through the state. Not all of that freight travels on the interstate and that some of the trucks cannot fit on some Iowa roads?

The Office of Vehicle & Motor Carrier Services is charged with issuing permits and finding safe routes for trucks carrying loads more than 8 feet 6-inches wide, 13 feet 6 inches high, or heavier than 80,000 pounds. These oversize or overweight loads, if not routed properly, can strike bridges or even become stuck on a too-narrow road with no way to turn around, potentially causing significant costs for repairs and downtime for closed roads.

In a typical year, the office processes more than 100,000 permit applications for oversize and/or overweight loads that relied on old technologies and manual processes. As of Dec. 30, a new Web-based Iowa Automated Permitting System (IAPS) was fully implemented to speed the process and improve customer safety. IAPS replaced a 14-year-old system.

Phou Baccam, team leader of the permitting group, said, “Customer requirements and expectations had outpaced the old permitting system, which offered some online services, but was fairly limited. Our employees still had to trace routes on a paper map. That took a significant amount of staff time and could potentially cause delays for some carriers. Although our staff is always very careful to map a route, the opportunity was there for human error. It was pretty archaic. With the new system, the maps are all electronic. Layers of data are brought in from several sources to show bridge and pavement restrictions and data from the 511 system, just to name a few. The system is now available for our staff and motor carriers on desktops and laptop computers. Soon we hope to be able to provide the maps on mobile devices and give carriers the option to use turn-by-turn navigation. This also increases safety when the driver can use a hands-free device and isn’t looking at a paper map.”

Implementation of the new system was a multiyear, multi-office effort with Vehicle & Motor Carrier Services, Bridges and Structures, Research and Analytics, Highway Division districts, and others. Tina Hargis, director of Vehicle & Motor Carrier Services, said, “What we needed most was good data on bridge and road dimensions and other attributes so larger loads could be routed safely through the state. The field offices and the folks in Bridge have been great partners in understanding the importance of accurate data in the system.”

Baccam says because of the architecture of the system, several Iowa DOT offices will be able to obtain reports on things like traffic levels and size of vehicles on specific routes. He said, “The Office of Motor Vehicle Enforcement also has access to the permits online, so they can have more accurate information when investigating carrier issues. Carriers are familiar with the basic system already, because they use one like it for obtaining permits in other states.”

ApplicationAlex Jansen, administrative assistant 1 who has fielded many of the customer questions on the project, said, “The core software product we are using is identical to that of other states. It is cloud-based, so there is no software installation required and the system can be accessed from any Internet-connected computer anywhere in the world. Along with automated permitting and routing, the system has many reporting features that carriers find beneficial. The permit can also be carried electronically, so a driver can have it on a smart phone or tablet and does not necessarily have to carry the paper permit any longer. This took a change in both Iowa Code and our administrative rules which was accomplished last year.”

When a carrier requests a permit with the new system, data connections are made seamlessly between bridge, pavement, and 511 information and the application is cross-checked for any issues with the permit request. The system will generate communication to the carrier if a road closure or lane restriction impacts a current permit. Baccam said, “The communication piece is a significant upgrade in safety. In the past, once a permit was issued, there was no further contact with the carrier. Now when a carrier receives a permit, there is a tracking system that alerts that carrier if weather or another issue closes or restricts a road.”

Baccam used the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa as an example, “A permit holder might not know that temporary or short notice restrictions can be possible because of events like RAGBRAI or major accidents that may close a roadway temporarily.”

While safety is the number one driver for the Iowa DOT to change to the new system, Baccam said convenience for the carriers has been greatly enhanced. “One of the major elements carriers tell us they like about the system is the company profile feature. Each carrier can set up and save profiles for trucks, trailers, or combinations and then just click on those when requesting permits. They will be able to search for previous permit applications and use those previous permits as templates for new permits. The system is very user-friendly. There are also help screens and an online video manual.”

Jansen added, “Drivers can see the routes on a map that has several layers. They can turn off any layers they don’t need. This replaces four or five paper maps they used to have to look at. Now it is all in one place.”

One significant element of IAPS that caused celebration for Iowa DOT employees was the implementation of credit card payments for permits. Hargis said, “Our employees literally celebrated in the hallways when we processed the last paper billing statements in January. Before the online payment system, we would print and mail 1,500 pages worth of paper bills every month, process the incoming checks, and try to track down delinquent accounts. Since most permits cost the carriers $10, the administrative costs versus the cost of the permit were very high. The new system collects the fees electronically up front, reducing administrative costs significantly.”

Since the system went live, more than 22,000 permits have been issued. Baccam said, “I’ve worked with several carriers that said Iowa is now one of the best and quickest states in issuing oversize and overweight permits, especially for superloads. With the boom in wind energy construction, we expect the number of permits to increase over the next few years. It takes between 10 and 12 oversize semi-loads of materials for each wind turbine constructed, and that doesn’t include the cranes and other construction equipment that are shipped to a wind farm site.”


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