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Florida Department of Transportation Road Ranger service vehicleChapter 2. Current Service Patrol Situational Analysis

2.1 Background, Objectives, and Scope

In one form or another, service patrols have been operating in the U.S. for more than 40 years. The first freeway service patrol (FSP) with continuous regular operations started in 1960 in Chicago, Illinois. In 1998, the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) conducted a study of 54 freeway service patrols in the U.S. and found that approximately 64 percent came into being since 1990. Many of these programs started out as Motorist Assistance or Courtesy Patrols and focused on assisting stranded motorists. Over time, some of these programs expanded their focus to include the safe and quick clearance of traffic incidents and became actively engaged incident response partners with other public safety agencies. These expanded service patrol programs are also referred to as Incident Response Patrols or Teams. In 2006, the U.S. DOT Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) Joint Program Office (JPO) conducted a survey regarding service patrols in 106 metropolitan areas. Of the 99 areas that responded, 73 areas had a service patrol in operation.

Current service patrol programs generally consist of trained personnel who use specially equipped vehicles to systematically patrol congested highways searching for and responding to traffic incidents. Program services vary across the United States; however, service patrols typically render assistance to motorists when needed and can push vehicles off the road, provide gasoline, and change flat tires or provide minor repairs to help motorists safely drive the vehicle from the highway. More robust programs provide additional functions such as clearance and recovery services, emergency TTC [1] and management, and assistance with emergency services. State and local sponsoring agencies are using service patrols as a strategy to reduce traffic congestion, improve travel time reliability, and improve highway safety. The many benefits attributed to service patrol programs, including their cost effectiveness, make them a fundamental element of traffic incident management programs and a key tactic in dealing with traffic congestion.

2.1.1 Traffic Congestion Trends

Traffic congestion, measured by travel times experienced by highway users, has grown substantially in cities across the United States. Figure 1 illustrates the traffic congestion trends in U.S. cities over the past 23 years. While the largest cities are the most congested, increases in traffic congestion also occurred in small and medium-sized cities.

Figure 1. Congestion Trends in U.S. Cities

Bar graph showing Hours of Delay per Traveler versus Population Area Size

Source: The 2007 Urban Mobility Report, Texas Transportation Institute, September 2007

The TTI estimated that in 2007 Americans experienced 4.2 billion vehicle hours of delay, resulting in 2.9 billion gallons in wasted fuel and a congestion cost of $78 billion. Traffic volumes and freight movements are projected to continue growing. As a result, congestion extends across greater portions of the day, and impacts travel on more highways in more cities adding to the time Americans spend traveling.

According to the FHWA’s Traffic Congestion and Reliability: Linking Solutions to Problems, the seven root causes of congestion that interact with one another are—
  1. Physical bottlenecks (capacity) – physical characteristics of the system such as number of lanes, alignments, and interchanges
  2. Traffic incidents – crashes, breakdowns, and debris impeding travel lanes disrupting the normal flow of traffic
  3. Work zones – construction activities that may reduce the number or width of travel lanes
  4. Weather – environmental factors affecting driver behavior and traffic flow
  5. Traffic control devices – railroad grade crossings and traffic signals
  6. Planned special events – surges in travel demand for an event can overwhelm the transportation system
  7. Fluctuations in normal traffic – day-to-day variability in travel demand resulting in variable and unreliable travel times.

Since local conditions can vary widely, Figure 2 illustrates only the national estimates of congestion sources.

Figure 2. The Sources of Congestion

Pie chart summarizing the national levels of traffic congestion by source

Source: Traffic Congestion and Reliability: Linking Solutions to Problems, FHWA, July 2004

The U.S. DOT’s Congestion Initiative outlines a blueprint to reverse the upward trend of congestion. Achieving an actual reduction in congestion will require action and cooperation from government officials at the Federal, State, and local levels; from those in the private sector; and from the users of the highway systems. While adding capacity is one strategy in the congestion reduction toolbox, the focus of the Congestion Initiative is to leverage technologies and innovative operational strategies that are more effective and efficient in congestion relief than current practices.

In support of the Congestion Initiative, FHWA developed six high-priority efforts and strategies recommended for implementation. One of FHWA’s six congestion relief strategies is Traffic Incident Management (TIM), which according to FHWA’s TIM Handbook [2], incident management is defined as “the systematic, planned and coordinated use of human, institutional, mechanical, and technical resources to reduce the duration and impact of incidents, and improve the safety of motorists, crash victims, and incident responders. These resources are also used to increase the operating efficiency, safety and mobility of the highway by systematically reducing the time to detect and verify an incident occurrence; implementing the appropriate response; and safely clearing the incident while managing the affected flow until full capacity is restored.”

2.1.2 Growth of Service Patrol Programs

The number of service patrol programs and the percentage of freeway miles covered by service patrols has grown in the United States. Based on a national summary of deployment statistics that the ITS JPO collected in 2006, over 94 agencies provide service patrols on freeways and 46 percent of freeway miles are covered in the 106 most populated metropolitan areas. Arterial miles covered by service patrols are also on the rise. In 1997, no service patrols were reported operating on arterials. In 2006, service patrols covered 11 percent of arterial miles in the 106 largest metropolitan areas.

2.1.3 Benefits and Services of Service Patrols

Benefit/cost studies and qualitative evaluations document that service patrols are one of the most effective elements of a TIM program. Some of the fundamental benefits and core services of service patrols cited by various studies include:
  • Reduced incident duration (because of decreased detection, response, and clearance times)
  • Quicker debris removal
  • Assistance to stranded motorists and crash victims
  • Traffic control and management
  • Ability of service patrol operators to provide real-time updates on traffic conditions that enable more accurate traveler information about freeway conditions.
Secondary benefits also can be gained from the direct services that patrols provide:
  • Improved traffic flow as a result of reduced incident duration and better traffic control
  • Reduced travel time, fuel costs, and vehicle emissions
  • Improved travel time reliability
  • Improved motorist and TIM responder safety
  • Enabled fire and rescue staff and equipment to be used for their original purposes rather than blocking lanes for traffic control
  • Reduced number of lanes closed for an incident
  • Reduced secondary crashes
  • Provided relief to law enforcement personnel to focus on other law enforcement duties or remain on their patrol
  • Reduced TIM responder personnel and resources unnecessarily dispatched to incidents that service patrols can handle (e.g., stalled vehicle).

2.1.4 Fundamental Components of a Service Patrol

The management and operational characteristics of service patrols can vary greatly between programs. However, many service patrol programs have integrated their operations with a TMC and are a key component of many TIM programs. Fundamental attributes that define an overall service patrol program include the following:
  • Agency sponsorship
  • Funding sources
  • Method of operation – agency operated or contracted
  • Coverage area
  • Frequency of coverage
  • Hours of operation
  • Operators qualifications and training requirements
  • Patrol vehicles
  • Special equipment
  • Services provided.

A review of current service patrol programs operating in the U.S. revealed widely varied approaches to operational hours and services provided. For example, some service patrol programs focus on motorist assistance, while others also provide roadway clearance services. Other programs have taken an additional step to train operators in TTC procedures and standards so that service patrol operators can help secure incident scenes and manage traffic during emergency responses.

2.1.5 Need for Consistency

The FHWA develops and maintains regulations and standards to provide consistency in designing highways and bridges, enhancing traffic control devices, establishing proper speed limits, and choosing other highway features. These standards ensure safety and provide consistency in driver expectations for the design and operation of the highway system as they move from one State or locality to another. Similarly, providing consistency in service patrols from one locale to another allows motorists to know what services to expect from a service patrol, thereby increasing their confidence in service patrols.

With the number of programs and the percentage of freeway and arterial miles patrolled increasing, functional variability among service patrols has also increased. Some programs focus on motorist assistance and minor repairs. Oftentimes, the patrol vehicles are not equipped, or operators are not trained, to provide clearance and recovery assistance to fully remove the vehicle from the roadway. Operational procedures may require the service patrol vehicle to abandon an assist after 15 minutes and return to its routine patrol. In these cases, the program relies on assistance from a private towing company to remove the vehicle from the roadway. This reliance can lead to a delay in removing the vehicle, increased frustration of motorists, and increased congestion. The possibility of a secondary crash also increases the longer a vehicle remains on a roadway shoulder.

Because service patrol programs have matured, public safety and emergency service agencies are now more aware of the types of services and benefit these patrols can provide. Service patrols can assist them in effectively securing an incident scene by providing emergency TTC and help manage traffic around the incident scene. This assistance allows law enforcement and emergency services to focus personnel and resources on enforcement or emergency aid functions. As service patrol programs evolve into providing these emergency TTC services, operators must be trained and well-versed in TTC procedures and standards. Following standardized emergency TTC procedures is an important step to ensure motorist, service patrol operator, and other TIM responder safety, in addition to help meet driver expectations. Standardized emergency TTC procedures will result in better driver behavior and compliance.

There is wide variability in the hours during which service patrols operate. Of the 24 service patrols surveyed for this Handbook, only three operated their patrols 24 hours, 7 days-a-week, with the remainder primarily focused on rush hours. These results are generally consistent with the U.S. DOT’s 2004 service patrol deployment statistics that revealed 40 percent of programs operate during peak hours, 20 percent operate 24 hours, 7 days-a-week, and 40 percent operate on “other” defined hours. Patrols that do not operate 24 hours, 7 days-a-week generally focus their service hours on the high volume, high congestion, and high incident times on a normal day when an incident can cause the biggest travel delays. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) trend analysis of crashes by day of week between 1975 and 2002 reveals that fatal crashes are highest on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In 2006, NHTSA reported that more than half of highway fatalities occur during nighttime hours between 6:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m. While partial-day and peak-hour service patrols may cover the most heavily congested periods, they may disregard important nighttime and weekend hours when severe crashes occur. If service patrols are providing TTC services, it is important that they operate during the high crash hours.

Service patrol programs currently in place were developed with variability in the services and functionality provided, service hours covered, vehicle and equipment specifications, and operational and administrative policies. While these programs have been largely successful, guidelines are needed to support future development of service patrols, enhance existing patrols, and provide design consistency on critical program elements.

2.2 Description of Current Service Patrols and Operational Constraints

As service patrol teams throughout the country work to detect, respond to, assist in, and clear various types of incidents, the overall goal of restoring traffic capacity as safely and quickly as possible remains common among all programs. Coordinated and systematic approaches to solving TIM challenges have been the necessary ingredients for service patrol programs to remain successful in the communities they serve.

Service patrols offer a range of services depending on budgets, the needs of the communities they serve, and their governments’ organizational structure. Patrol areas range from just 3 miles on a given highway to spanning several miles on a number of different roads within a defined geographic area. Service capabilities can range from a few vans in Washington, D.C., to a fleet of more than 150 vehicles in Los Angeles. Hours of patrol service range from rush-hour coverage to 24 hours, 7-days-a-week service for locations like the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), Florida’s Turnpike, and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Districts 3 through 7.

2.2.1 Typical Services

Despite offering a variety of services, hours, and capabilities, service patrols tend to perform similar functions that remain consistent despite their budgets and location. In general, service patrols offer the following standard services:
  • Move disabled or abandoned vehicles
  • Provide fuel
  • Provide water
    • For overheating
    • To person(s) being assisted
  • Change flat tires

  • Provide mechanical assistance
    • Jump starts
    • Minor mechanical repairs
    • Tire air
  • Assist stranded motorists
    • Cell phone service
    • Safe place to wait if vehicle is disabled
  • Remove obstacles and objects
    • Debris (roadway hazards)
    • Spilled items
  • Arrange for towing
    • Call commercial towing provider
    • Provide towing services to point of safety
  • Share information
    • Requests for emergency services
    • Driver information
    • On-site information to the TMC
  • Assisting other responding agencies
    • Law Enforcement
    • Fire and rescue
    • Emergency Medical Services (EMS).

2.2.2 Examples of Service that Range Beyond the Typical

Today’s service patrols offer a broad range of services, some that require specialized training. Highly involved training programs can require significant time and funding, but they offer a wide range of tools and resources that the operators and departments of transportation can provide. In addition to the typical services listed above, localities have either incorporated other services that are best suited for their areas or have enhanced existing services within their operation that includes the following:

Defibrillators – The Freeway Incident Management Safety Team (FIRST) in Minnesota outfits its vehicles with defibrillators. Using this equipment enhances the operators’ first-aid service already provided as part of their program. The October 2004 TIM Operational Guidelines, issued by the Incident Management Coordination Team of Minnesota, states that Freeway Incident Response Safety Team (FIRST, formerly known as Highway Helpers) provides “emergency medical aid until help arrives.” Service patrol operators need specialized training to use the defibrillators.

First aid – Some jurisdictions offer first-aid training at the awareness level, while others like the Samaritan program in Boston offer it at the responder level. On the Pennsylvania Turnpike where the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission oversees the State Farm Safety Patrol, service patrols provide no first-aid services; contract services such as EMS or fire departments handle first aid. An example of the more common standard is the Metro Police Department in Houston, Texas, which provides basic first aid—and its staff is “by no means medically trained.”

Hazardous materials (HAZMAT), fires, and blood-borne pathogens – Georgia’s transportation incident response units, known to the public as Highway Emergency Response Operators (HERO), trains personnel to carry equipment to handle HAZMAT, fires, and blood-borne pathogens. This is a unique example of operations service patrol programs can provide. However, the equipment and the required training to be able to use it are not common in many jurisdictions. Personnel in the Tennessee and Washington State highway incident management programs are trained in fire eradication. Boston reports that its CVS Samaritan Van Program deploys operators trained in areas such as paramedics, EMS, animal control, and firefighter level 1. A firefighter level 1 certification can include an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certificate, Paramedic license, Firefighter 1 State certification, Firefighter Academy certification, and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) for the professional rescuer. Requirements may vary with locality.

Defensive driving – This skill set is not common to most service patrol programs.

Chainsaw operation – The Roadway Operations Patrol (ROP) in Washington, D.C., and the FIRST program in Minnesota train their personnel on how to operate chainsaws for quick clearance of trees that may come down in roadways.

High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) gate operation – Some jurisdictions with HOV lanes use the service patrol to operate lane gates (e.g., the FIRST program).

Infrastructure checks – Other variable and nonstandard service patrol duties include service patrols performing infrastructure checks (drains, lights, etc.) and, if possible, offering assistance to solve minor infrastructure problems.

Towing – A survey of service patrol programs showed that some operations provided towing; however, the services varied in the distance to which a vehicle would be towed. Some services towed to safe areas while others towed to designated lots.

Vehicle repair – Samaritan program staff are National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)-certified in motor vehicle repair and can make numerous on-site repairs. This certification and experienced first responder-level training exceed the services that most departments of transportation programs currently provide.

2.2.3 Most Common Hours of Operation

Many jurisdictions restrict the number of hours that service patrols operate often due to personnel or financial limitations. The most commonly patrolled times fall between 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Service patrol programs focus their resources primarily on the rush-hour period when vehicle travel is at its highest and incidents most often occur, resulting in severe congestion. On average, service patrols provide weekend coverage between 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Some programs, like the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s State Farm Safety Patrol, FDOT Districts 3 through 7, and Indiana DOT’s Emergency Traffic Patrol (known as “Minutemen”), may provide 24 hours, 7-days-a-week service, but the majority of programs do not. Tennessee, Washington State, and the Maricopa Association of Governments provide a 24 hours, 7-days-a-week service patrol but as an “on-call” service or ready for immediate action if activated, normally outside the traditional service times or in specific locations. HERO in Georgia advertises 24 hours, 7-days-a-week service, but patrols are “on-call” on weekend nights. Many programs, such as the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s (WisDOT) Gateway Service Patrol, will serve special event operations, while other programs simply assist with events if they fall within existing hours of operation.

2.2.4 Resources Typically Found with Current Service Patrols

Limited resources, including funding, trained staff, equipment, or support may affect the service patrol’s ability to respond adequately to some or all incidents. Equipment varies as much as the size and budgets of the programs themselves. The amount of equipment any one service patrol carries depends on the program budget on the vehicles the program uses, and on the training level of staff using that equipment. Programs that use towing vehicles alone often cannot provide as many types of services as programs using other vehicles that can carry more supplies and equipment. Alternatively, programs with no towing capability are limited to using soft bumpers for moving a vehicle or calling for a towing vehicle to assist in vehicle removal.

Service patrols that were surveyed for this Handbook carry some of the following standard equipment:
  • Traffic control equipment
  • First-aid equipment
  • Vehicle-mounted variable message signs
  • Gas
  • Air compressors
  • Communications equipment
  • Basic tools.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Freeway Service Patrol truckThe equipment available to the responders dictates the services that can be provided to motorists. For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) District 11 Expressway Service Patrol does not carry vehicle-mounted variable message signs or air compressors. Similarly, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s State Farm Safety Patrol does not carry air compressors, gas, or basic tools, according to their survey responses. Maryland’s Emergency Traffic Patrol carries gas on its tow trucks and only has diesel when it is requested. The Massachusetts Highway Department’s CaresVan program carries equipment in its vans to change flat tires, to partially fill empty gas tanks, to clear roadway debris, and to offer stranded motorists use of a cell-phone.

Of those service patrols surveyed, the programs have different equipment and thus provide differing services including:
  • Water/antifreeze
  • Oil and power steering fluid
  • Spill containment supplies
  • Fire, animal, and HAZMAT supplies
  • Defibrillators and medical supplies
  • Laptop computers
  • Diesel fuel and fuel transfer kits
  • Maps, phone books, and HAZMAT guide
  • Salt and sand
  • Cleaning products
  • Public address system with an external speaker
  • Tow chains
  • Battery booster boxes and jumper cables
  • Hydraulic jacks and pillars
  • Fire and law enforcement scanner
  • Two-way communications with public safety dispatchers.

2.2.5 Personnel Found on Today’s Service Patrols

People constitute the greatest resource in any service patrol program. The ability to recruit, train, and properly pay people willing to fill service patrol positions impacts and may limit a jurisdiction’s ability to expand service patrol programs to cover more hours and areas. Most service patrol programs focus their service times on the rush-hour period. This time can be managed by using split shifts, unless an operator has other duties or functions after the patrol period is completed and works a “traditional” 8-hour shift. Often, a service patrol’s work is done in an environment, being both dangerous and stressful, that poses a high level of risk to the service patrol operator. Finding talented individuals who are qualified and willing to work in this environment can be challenging.

2.2.6 Public Private Partnerships

More States are exploring the benefits of entering into Public Private Partnerships (PPP) to supplement government funding for service patrols. However, jurisdictions report mixed results when engaging in PPPs or corporate sponsorships for service patrols. Entering into these partnerships can greatly benefit programs where funding may be tight or there are staffing limitations. The Motorist Assistance Program (MAP) in Houston, Texas, operates as a result of a PPP among the Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) of Harris County, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Houston Automobile Dealers Association, and Verizon Wireless. The State Farm Safety Patrol on the Pennsylvania Turnpike represents another PPP example. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission funds the program, but the State Farm Insurance Company provides $1.4 million toward the service patrol operation over a 3-year period. In return, the service patrol vehicles display the State Farm Insurance Company and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission logos.

Other examples of PPP efforts include:
  • According to its Web site, the Massachusetts Highway Department’s CaresVan program receives $2.8 million over 5 years from the Commerce Insurance Company for its CaresVan program operated by Export Enterprises.

  • Georgia is currently exploring the possibility of selling advertising space on its service patrol vehicles to help fund the 20 percent of the 80/20 Federal-to-State cost sharing.

  • North Carolina is also exploring the possibility of attracting corporate funding.

Massachusetts Highway Department CaresVan. Many other programs surveyed reported that they had either explored corporate sponsorship and found problems or had programs in place that were discontinued for reasons such as the private sponsor stopped providing funds, sponsorship, or other support. The Minnesota DOT (MnDOT) considered placing corporate sponsorship logos on service patrol vehicles, but found that this would have required new legislation.

The CVS Samaritan van program is an example of a corporate service patrol program working with local jurisdictions to provide service patrols. The Samaritan program has been operating for 30 years and patrols highways around nine major U.S. cities. The white vans with the red “CVS/Samaritan” logo operate in Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Providence, and Washington, D.C. The Samaritan program works in cooperation with local transportation departments, metropolitan traffic centers, law enforcement, and other TIM responders.

An alternative to PPPs is using contract services. Examples of PPPs and contract services follow.
  • The FDOT Road Rangers represents a successful contract-service patrol program.

  • In PennDOT’s District 6, when the private partner discontinued service, contracting for services was a proven solution.

  • Washington State tried contracting its towing functions but stopped the program after Federal funding was discontinued and other funds were unavailable.

  • In Maryland, officials determined that only government personnel were authorized to perform certain tasks. Since the program was part of its customer service program, officials decided agency staff would perform the tasks, not contractors.

2.2.7 Limitations

Annual operating budgets for service patrol programs can range from $275,000 for District 5 in Pennsylvania to $19 million covering several urban areas in Florida. Funding can affect service areas, hours of operation, training, staffing, and equipment. These resources are all essential when trying to deploy a properly equipped program to provide a safe and efficient service that meets the needs of the community and successfully achieves the agency’s service objectives.

Operating a stand-alone program is a challenge for smaller jurisdictions trying to start a service patrol program. The challenge is also real for existing service patrol programs trying to move toward being a full-function operation. Splitting responsibilities between the service patrol program and other tasks can limit a program that must share both people and other resources.

A lack of communications and/or memorandums of understanding (MOU) with local law enforcement, fire and rescue, EMS, emergency management agencies, and the Federal government, among others, can affect the ability of programs to coordinate efforts. Communications and MOUs help bring service patrol operations into the Incident Command System (ICS). Programs that face these limitations cannot cross-share critical knowledge, data, and lessons learned. Consequently, program staff cannot develop stronger ties, build trust, nor create effective coordination efforts during incidents.

The common goal among all programs is to restore traffic capacity safely and quickly. This goal is achieved by first addressing the state of the existing program and the operational constraints it faces. A service patrol program first needs a well-defined scope of operations, proper funding, a dedicated operation, well-trained staff, minimum response times, the necessary equipment to manage each incident, established MOUs, and both the trust and support of the community and partner agencies—before it can look ahead to becoming an FFSP.

2.3 User Profiles/Classifications

Service patrols are typically one of several responder groups comprising the incident command structure. The ability to detect, respond, assist, and recover relies on the cooperation of, and the communication among, many different entities. But most importantly, each agency must understand the capabilities, limitations, and responsibilities of the other response partners. These relationships require constant attention and resource sharing to build bonds of trust and cooperation. Failing to recognize and make full use of all available resources will result in failure to resolve incidents in the safest and most efficient way possible.

With the majority of the service patrol programs starting in the 1990s, the list of users has expanded as the services that transportation agencies can provide are recognized. Service patrol programs have contact with many users; however, each has its own individual needs when interacting with the program. Service patrol operators are asked, as well as trained, to work in situations that, in the past were considered outside the traditional scope of services transportation agencies provided.

Many agencies can be involved when an incident occurs, including:
  • State and local transportation agencies
  • State and local law enforcement
  • Fire and rescue services (HAZMAT, including clean-up and removal as needed)
  • Towing and recovery companies
  • Public and private information services
  • Travelers and others using the affected system.

2.3.1 State and Local Transportation Agencies

State and local transportation agencies with service patrol programs are often first on the scene for roadway incidents. Closed-circuit television (CCTV), other traffic monitoring technology, roving patrols, and 911 calls are aids transportation agencies use to restore normal traffic flow and minimize delays. Early detection through these methods gives TMCs the ability to provide notification to travelers through dynamic message signs (DMS) and public and private information services. These travelers can then seek alternate routes, minimizing their delays and not adding to the congestion at the incident scene. TMCs also can assist law enforcement and fire and rescue services by either notifying them of an incident or offering guidance on the least congested means to access incident locations as they deploy to a scene. The primary purpose of a service patrol at an incident scene is traffic control. This function relieves other responders from this responsibility.

2.3.2 State and Local Law Enforcement

State and local law enforcement agencies generally have the ability to communicate and coordinate with TMCs through service patrol programs present at an incident. Local law enforcement programs that have MOUs with FFSP programs can contact TMCs directly to obtain information such as the exact location and the nature of the incident. On-scene command and control is enhanced when local law enforcement is coordinated with transportation agencies. A service patrol operating within a specified geographical area can relieve law enforcement personnel of having to respond to disabled vehicles or other minor highway obstructions. Law enforcement personnel can then concentrate on other urgent duties.

2.3.3 Fire and Rescue Services

Fire and rescue services have not used service patrols as much as law enforcement, according to an FHWA study done in 2000. However, just as with law enforcement, fire and rescue services can benefit from the technology and operations of a service patrol program. Communications with the TMC, either directly or through the service patrol at the incident, can only improve responses and advance the treatment and transport of the injured. When service patrols arrive on the incident scene before fire and rescue personnel, they can relay valuable information such as the nature and severity of injuries, and the number and age of any victims.

HAZMAT response is typically the responsibility of the fire department; however, removing HAZMAT can sometimes fall to private services or even service patrols. For incidental HAZMAT incidents like a small gasoline spill, properly trained and equipped service patrol operators can manage the incident. However, larger events, where fire and rescue are present, can require road closures, detours, and even evacuations. For such events, transportation agencies and service patrols are responsible for traffic control. As service patrol programs become increasingly involved in all types of incidents, knowledge of the ICS is essential when interacting with fire and rescue personnel.

2.3.4 Towing and Recovery Companies

Towing and recovery companies are usually involved in clearing and removing impacted vehicles, spilled loads, and other debris. Often, local governments enter into agreements with towing companies to assist with highway incidents. Each agency involved in an incident must agree when towing and recovery can begin. Providing access to incident scenes and providing information on the best approach and right equipment need to be coordinated among all parties at the incident. It is important to keep in mind that full traffic flow cannot be restored until a scene is cleared. Towing and recovery companies are the providers of this service and often interact with on-scene service patrols to coordinate access and reopen the roadway.

Once vehicles are removed from the crash site, roadway repairs may be required. Service patrols are often responsible for communicating information back to a TMC about the condition or status of the infrastructure following an incident. Heavy equipment may be needed to restore roadway conditions when pavement is damaged. This equipment may be available through transportation agencies or may need to be contracted. The recovery process can take time, depending on the severity of the incident.

2.3.5 Public and Private Information Services

For the roving service patrol operator, it is possible to detect incidents from radio traffic reports or even Web sites (if mobile access capabilities exist within the vehicles). Public and private information services work with service patrols and their TMCs to get updates and clarify information on incidents. Fire departments, local law enforcement, and transportation agencies work through public information officers (PIO) to provide messages to the public. When an incident occurs, the public desires information to assist in their decision making.

2.3.6 Travelers and Other Users

Travelers and other users of the transportation system, such as roadway construction personnel and maintenance crews, also may interact with service patrols. When a motorist breaks down, service patrols provide that needed assistance. As incidents occur, the traveling public and others turn to public and private information services for the information they need on congestion and road conditions. In addition, if an incident involves them directly, they rely on the service patrols, the law enforcement community, and fire and rescue services to provide assistance for their particular situation. Because there are more travelers and other users on the road, they can interact with law enforcement, fire and rescue, and transportation to assist when incidents occur. Construction or maintenance crews—either contracted or public employees—are also familiar with the system and can provide useful information on what they observe during their routine activities.

2.4 Support Environment

This section discusses the typical supporting environment of an FFSP program that can directly affect the range of capabilities provided.

2.4.1 Oversight

Of the programs surveyed for this Handbook, State and local transportation or public safety agencies oversee about 50 percent of the current service patrol operations. Transportation agencies that manage service patrol programs operate out of several different responsibility centers, including TMCs, ITS offices, and incident management offices. The Roadway Operations Patrol (ROP) in Washington, D.C., operates out of the TMC, which is part of the Traffic Operations Administration within the District Department of Transportation. The Chief of ROP oversees the TMC operations as well. In Washington State, Florida, and Pennsylvania, service patrol programs are managed by the district within which they operate. However, in Pennsylvania, the PennDOT District 5 ITS staff manages the daily oversight of contracted activities. In PennDOT District 11, the TMC manager and the tunnel manager provide oversight. The TMC manager oversees contractor services and the tunnel manager manages PennDOT staff. Though the CaresVan service patrols on Massachusetts highways are supervised by the contractor, the State department of transportation monitors them using global positioning systems (GPS). New York operates its service patrol program from the TMCs within each regional office. Depending on the size of the regional office, there might be a manager specifically for the service patrol and, depending on the size of the contract, that manager might be a contractor. Local law enforcement manages the Motorist Assistance Program (MAP) in Houston and the Dallas County Courtesy Patrol. In Houston, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office operates MAP using its own deputy sheriffs. Daily oversight of the San Diego Freeway Service and the Kansas Department of Transportation’s MAP are managed by their respective State Highway Patrols. The difference between these two programs is that the San Diego Freeway Service is a cooperative effort between the California Highway Patrol (CHP), the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), while the Kansas MAP is sponsored by the Kansas DOT but run by the Kansas Highway Patrol.

In each case, program oversight was determined by the current structure of the organization. The home of the service patrol can be affected by the agency that introduced the concept of the service patrol and where the program funding was the strongest. Those organizations that have created service patrol programs have done so in an effort to address the causes of non-recurring congestion due to highway incidents.

2.4.2 Facilities and Equipment

Surveys showed that the agency providing the service was generally responsible for maintaining the facilities and equipment. In most of the survey responses, equipment was classified only as vehicles, one of the more costly parts of a program budget. However, equipment such as message boards, cones, flashing lights, flares, wheel jacks, safety vests, air compressors, CCTV cameras, and TMC systems, to name a few, are all part of the service patrol program that will also require repair or replacement at some point.

Where contracted service patrols were utilized, such as PennDOT’s District 6, Wisconsin’s Gateway Patrol in Racine and Kenosha counties, and in the metropolitan areas of Boston, Worcester and Springfield, Massachusetts, the contractor was responsible for servicing the equipment and providing the vehicle maintenance facilities. In Pennsylvania Districts 5 and 11, the contractor is responsible for just overall maintenance. When law enforcement has oversight of the service patrol program, such as in Maricopa’s Association of Governments and in Harris County, Texas, they are able to provide facilities and maintain the equipment themselves. Agencies can handle maintenance of their vehicles in-house, send them out for repair, or a combination of both. This determination is based on the size of the agency and how it is structured to handle maintenance issues.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission provides sheds for equipment and vehicles and has an in-house maintenance department that performs vehicle repairs. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has facilities for its own fleet but will contract the maintenance or, when possible, provide its staff training from the State Highway Patrol to perform work on service patrol vehicles. In Oregon, the Incident Response program’s maintenance facilities use strategic staging areas for their Incident Response trucks. Instead of having one centrally located facility where all the trucks are staged, Incident Response vehicles are strategically placed at the maintenance facility closest to the responders’ home address (within the metropolitan area). This approach will decrease response time when responding to emergencies outside of normal working hours or when reporting to their corridors for day-to-day operations.

2.4.3 Communications

Of the service patrols surveyed, nearly every program outfitted its vehicles with cell phones and 800 MHz radios. Where transportation agencies had their own communications system and radios, the service patrols were equipped with these devices. The state of Maryland’s Emergency Traffic Patrols are outfitted with the Capital Wireless Information Net (CapWIN). CapWIN is a partnership between the state of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia that provides an interoperable first responder data communication and information-sharing network. CapWIN was awarded $3.2 million in grant funding to implement an ITS solution for first responders in the National Capital Region. This grant includes funding from FHWA as well as matching contributions from the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Other communications options include law enforcement radios and scanners, Nextel, and CB radios. The District of Columbia, San Diego, Oregon, and Minnesota all use laptops in their service patrol vehicles. The portable laptop provides extra capabilities when it comes to reports, maps, data, access to traffic cameras, etc. Tennessee identified its cameras and traffic surveillance equipment as part of its overall communications package that supports the service patrol program.

2.4.4 Funding

Of the 24 service patrols surveyed for this Handbook, most receive funding from State funds, Federal funds, a combination of the two, and/or in rare cases, private funding through a PPP. For the service patrols that receive both Federal and State funding, the contributions are 80 percent and 20 percent, respectively. In Dallas, patrols benefit from additional funding from tolls. Where only State funds are used, such as in Florida, PennDOT’s District 11, and Minnesota, traffic operations and maintenance or traffic operations and safety have specific budgets from which funding was provided. In San Diego, the State provides funding to the localities and they, in turn, match that funding. Louisiana has a similar program to support its service patrols that includes contributions from local metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in addition to Federal and local funding. The Maricopa Association of Governments and the state of Maryland are using Federal funding through the congestion mitigation and air quality (CMAQ) fund.

According to the FHWA, CMAQ funds are available to a wide range of government and non-profit organizations, as well as private entities contributing to PPPs, but the local MPO and the state department of transportation controls these funds. Often, these organizations plan or implement air quality programs and projects and provide CMAQ funding to others to implement projects. The Harris County, Texas, Metro Police Department controls the budget for its service patrol program; therefore, it does not rely on Federal or State funds. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission uses money out of its operating funds as well as money from the State Farm Insurance Company. For its service patrol programs, Massachusetts Highway receives money from a private insurance company and from Federal and state funds. Maricopa Association of Government’s FSP program states on its Web site that, “due to the clear demonstration of benefits in improving safety on the freeway system, the [FSP] program was incorporated in the 20-year Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) that was approved by voters in Maricopa County in November 2004. The FSP program is currently fully funded through the year 2026 with RTP funds that total nearly $21.5 million.”

2.4.5 Contracting Mechanisms

Contracting mechanisms for service patrol programs are handled in many ways depending on the jurisdiction. In cases where local transportation districts oversee the programs, such as in Florida, contracting is handled at the district level. Sometimes contracts are awarded to those operations that can provide expertise or services that the service patrols are unable to handle. In San Diego and in District 8 in Pennsylvania, for example, towing services are contracted.

2.4.6 Standard Operating Procedures and Guidelines

Responses varied in this Handbook’s survey on guidelines or standard operating procedures (SOPs). Most of the respondents either had SOPs or procedural guidelines or followed some sort of operations policy. The Florida Road Rangers cited the Open Roads Policy and the Mitigation Spill Policy for their guidelines. Georgia also has a similar Open Roads Policy in place. Washington State follows a Joint Operations Policy, while the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission follows a Unified Command protocol. The Wisconsin Gateway Patrol, a contracted service, follows specifications set forth in its contract with WisDOT. A few programs, like MAP in Harris County, Texas, and the Emergency Traffic Patrol in Maryland, currently have SOPs or guidelines under development.

Programs that did not have SOPs were, in some cases, under the jurisdiction of law enforcement. Service patrol programs that were contracted out typically had specific terms written into their contracts that served the purpose of an SOP. Performance was measured against the terms of the contract, and oversight was handled by the awarding agency. Outreach, in some instances, added feedback into contract performance.

While training can offer guidance on how to handle service patrol operations in the field, it is important to have SOPs and guidelines. Because service patrol programs have expanded in size and the services they provide, responsibility is placed on the agency with oversight of the service patrol program to provide this guidance for the protection of the operators and the overall organization.

2.4.7 MOUs and Mutual-Aid Agreements

Very few agencies reported the existence of an MOU or mutual-aid agreement. Of the MOUs and mutual-aid agreements that did exist, many were between law enforcement and transportation agencies. For example, HELP, in Tennessee, noted that law enforcement agencies are total partners and that they see the value in service patrol programs. It has taken a year to build the relationship, and HELP is now working toward an MOU or other type of interagency agreement. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) Incident Response program has been recognized by many of their external partners as a first responder agency. This recognition is because ODOT Incident Response staff are responding to incidents in much the same manner as their external partners and typically before them, allowing them to focus on the specific duties of their profession. However, ODOT’s Incident Response program does not have any MOUs.

When the Emergency Traffic Patrol in Maryland started, the patrols had to determine where they fit into the first responder picture and how to interact with law enforcement and fire departments. Now, Maryland State Police use the Emergency Traffic Patrol because patrols can handle many tasks that previously were the responsibility of law enforcement. CapWIN is an example of a partnership among areas (Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia) that provides an interoperable first responder data communication and information-sharing network.

The North Carolina Incident Management Assistance Patrols (IMAP) have an MOU with the Greensboro Police Department to remove abandoned and disabled vehicles. IMAP is currently working toward an MOU with the State Highway Patrol to do this statewide as well. North Carolina also has quick clearance legislation (GS 20-161) to clear roads, which extends liability protection to department of transportation and law enforcement personnel who keep roads open. Other states with MOUs with state highway patrols include Washington and New York. In San Diego, the CHP, SANDAG, and Caltrans entered into interagency agreements that provide for the annual funding for the service patrol from Caltrans to CHP and SANDAG. An additional provision of the interagency agreement is a Joint Operational Policy Statement that details the individual and joint responsibility of Caltrans, CHP, and SANDAG. In Georgia, HERO also has an incident management task force made up of many different agencies across responding areas. HERO reports benefits related to enhanced training and better ideas through this relationship.

2.4.8 Outreach and Calling for Service

Nearly all service patrols offer some form of outreach to the community to publicize their availability, hours of operation, and services, although it has been reported that many travelers are still not aware of the service. Most programs will offer a survey card or brochure to the motorist after service has been provided. This form of outreach gives the users an opportunity to rate the service patrol and provide feedback to the agency operators and is often a key component in evaluating the program. Most respondents are relieved and pleased with the service provided to them in a time of need.

Some service patrol programs attend community events to raise their exposure to the public off the roadway. In Washington, D.C., ROP can be seen at the end of the July 4th parade every year as the DC DOT showcases its vehicles in the final element of the parade. In New York, HELP will attach “sorry we missed you” tags on abandoned vehicles to let drivers know that they are available and could have offered services had the driver been with the vehicle. Florida’s Road Rangers advertise their Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) numbers to the public, while other service patrol programs use Web sites to post their information. Transportation agency PIOs are to inform the public of the service patrol programs whenever possible. The Maricopa Association of Governments arranged a media ride-along to foster publicity for the program. In Georgia, training officers and supervisors exercise another form of outreach by going to police stations and fire stations to inform them of the advantage of using service patrol programs.

Several service patrols advise motorists needing assistance to call their State Highway Patrol number such as *FHP or *THP, 911, or 511 to request service. Generally, no other phone number is advertised for the public to call. If such a request is received, the dispatcher contacts the service patrol vehicle to direct the operator to the location where service is needed. Many service patrol vehicles drive along the highways to identify motorists who may need assistance. In addition, TMCs equipped with surveillance cameras can observe stranded motorists and request the service patrol to respond.

2.4.9 Summary

Support for service patrols includes elements from facilities, maintenance support, equipment, communications, mutual-aid agreements and MOUs, as well as outreach. It is important to keep in mind that the funding provided to the program directly affects the range of capabilities and services that service patrols are able to provide. The ability of the program determines its usefulness to the sponsoring agency and, more importantly, the public. Because users of the service patrol program depend on the service patrols, it is even more important that properly supported programs enter the field each day. Adequately supported service patrol programs in the field mean earlier incident detection, quicker response, expedited removal of incidents, and faster restoration of traffic flow for motorists using the transportation system.

1. TTC is explained in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) as “providing continuity of safe and efficient traffic flow, to the extent interruptions in normal flow are necessary for temporary traffic control operations or other events that must temporarily disrupt normal traffic flow.” Back to text.

2. FHWA Traffic Incident Management Handbook, November 2000. Back to text.

July 9, 2008
Publication #FHWA-HOP-08-031