Chapter 3. Full-Function Service Patrol Justification and Nature of Changes
In 2006, the U.S. DOT announced its Congestion Initiative, which provides an outline for Federal, State, and local officials to consider as they work together to reverse the trend toward increasing congestion. Major components of the initiative include (1) congestion relief programs, (2) PPPs, (3) corridors of the future, (4) implementing technological and operational improvements, and (5) increasing aviation capacity. The Congestion Initiative is based upon using existing innovative and demonstrated strategies that more efficiently and effectively provide relief to traffic gridlock than the current practice. These options include technologies such as congestion pricing and high-speed open road tolling and the billions of dollars in private capital available for investment in public infrastructure. Service patrols are one tool in aiding state and local governments in their efforts to reduce congestion.
Service patrols throughout the U.S. offer a varying range of services depending on budgets, the needs of the communities they serve, and their governments’ organizational structure. Service patrols yield significant benefits to the transportation agencies and communities through reductions in vehicle delays, vehicle emissions, and gasoline consumption, as well as provide greater overall safety to travelers. These benefits are achieved through earlier detection, quicker responses, expedited removal of incidents, and faster recovery times. Before service patrols, transportation agencies relied on other responders such as law enforcement to clear congestion problems caused by incidents. Service patrols allow transportation agencies to control and respond to problems on their own systems with their own assets. Service patrols working with TIM responders can assist in the overall safety of incident scenes. Transportation agencies now have a direct impact on other TIM responders and play a role in preventing secondary incidents. Transportation agencies are more involved during on-site incidents and have become an important part of the incident management system. Service patrols give transportation agencies their own asset on-site to provide real-time information as an incident progresses. In addition, many incidents cause damage to the transportation infrastructure. Service patrols can provide information on such damage, thereby allowing repairs to proceed more quickly and recovering the cost of repairs from the person who caused the damage. The support environment for service patrols varies across a broad spectrum. The ability of the program to meet its intended mission determines its usefulness to the agency and, more importantly, to the public.
Service patrols are often part of an overall TIM program, and while there are no required performance measures, many programs have adopted some performance measures. FHWA’s study on TIM performance measures showed that while many agencies measure performance related to TIM, the definition of the measures is inconsistent across transportation and public safety disciplines. Most agencies measure what is important to them—with little coordination on measurement with other agencies in the same region.
The most common measures for TIM are:
All these types of measures have some relevance to service patrols. The majority of programs surveyed as part of this Handbook reported using some combination of statistics gathered from each service call. Some of the statistics mentioned include the number of calls, response time, clearance time, type of incident, duration of incident, and congestion levels. The remaining surveys reported using customer satisfaction, or comment cards, to measure the performance of the program.
The Boston service patrol program reports that all vehicles have a mobile data computer that allows real-time reporting of specific incident information during service calls. This data is then used to evaluate operational functions and routes. If the data shows that a service patrol vehicle is not meeting program standards, operations and routes are reevaluated. The Florida Road Rangers carry comment cards to provide to assisted motorists. The Rangers request that the motorist fill out the card and mail it (postage is paid for by FDOT) to the central office. The comment cards are reviewed and scanned for data, which is then provided in summary form to the appropriate FDOT district. Massachusetts Highway Department’s CaresVan uses both comment cards and statistical analysis to assess the performance of its program.
The San Diego FSP uses a combination of statistical analysis, driver inspection, and comment cards. The FSP program coordinator inspects each truck and driver each month. Each is graded on the following criteria: needs improvement, meets the standard, exceeds the standard, or is outstanding. Every quarter, an award is given to a driver that is based on monthly inspections, customer comment cards, no complaints, no accidents, and no need for counseling for the 3-month period. In addition, a driver-of-the–year award is presented to one of the four quarterly award recipients.
Of the surveys completed that report measuring contractor performance, approximately half used customer satisfaction surveys/comment cards. The District 6 Expressway Service Patrol in Pennsylvania provides these comment cards at the end of each call. If a service patrol operator receives more than one unfavorable card in the last six shifts, counseling is required. A second such situation will result in a warning, a third in a suspension, and a fourth in a dismissal. The other half of the agencies surveyed reported using statistical analysis, inspections, or a combination of the two. Massachusetts Highway reports that its contractor, CaresVan, submits reports on all of its operations. Massachusetts Highway will also send out its own inspectors to evaluate contractor performance. They also rely on State Police feedback. The Florida Road Rangers gauge their contractors by the number of trucks on the road, the number of stops, and the types of services they provided. FDOT district supervisors review and inspect the contractor vehicles for proper equipment. In 2000, Marquette University formally evaluated WisDOT’s Gateway Patrol program. The evaluation showed that a 52 percent reduction in minor incident clearance time was realized because of the presence of the Gateway Patrols. This reduction resulted in significant improvements in motorist delay. In addition, a 14 percent reduction was achieved in downstream secondary incidents. These reductions significantly improved safety.
Very few of the programs surveyed reported having an official benefit-cost ratio analysis. Currently, no national standard exists for measuring the benefit-cost ratio of service patrol programs. The San Diego FSP reports one of the most comprehensive benefit-cost assessments. The effectiveness of the FSP program is assessed by calculating the annual benefit-cost ratio of each FSP beat. First, the annual savings in incident delay, fuel consumption, and air pollutant emissions due to FSP service are calculated based on the number of assists, beat geometries, and traffic volumes. The savings are then translated into benefits using monetary values of $10 per hour for delays and $2 per hour for fuel consumption. The costs include the annual capital, operating, and administrative costs for providing FSP service. The FSP evaluation methodology is incorporated into an Excel spreadsheet. Input data requirements consist of beat geometries (such as number of lanes, presence of shoulders, etc.), traffic volumes, and the number and characteristics of FSP assists. A recent study by the University of California, Berkeley calculated the statewide average benefit-cost ratio was 8.3:1.
The Florida Road Ranger program completed a benefit-cost analysis in November 2005. The overall benefit-cost ratio was 25.8:1. This ratio represents the benefits based on the average incident delay and fuel savings indicated by the Road Ranger program. The 2005 report indicated that the program produces significant benefits in all five districts and the Florida Turnpike. The range of the benefit-cost ratio is from 2.3:1 to 41.5:1. Road Rangers assist with an average of seven incidents per hour in any given district with the exception of the Turnpike where they assist with nearly 18 incidents per hour.
In Minnesota, FIRST reports a benefit-cost ratio of 15.8:1. A 2003 Minnesota report on benefit-cost stated that while the total cost of the program increased 69 percent compared to the fiscal year 1999 estimate, the benefit estimation included additional factors that caused a six-fold increase for the fiscal year 2003 analysis. Net benefits were reported to be seven times greater, and the benefit-cost ratio was revised up from 4:1 to 16:1. Factors included in this analysis were reduced traffic delays, fewer secondary crashes, less fuel consumption, and lower emissions. The magnitude of this ratio reflects a significant public benefit for the investment.
Benefit-cost ratios from the reduction in delay between 3:1 and 10:1 are common for FSPs. Perhaps the most aggressive program in the United States, Houston’s SAFEclear consists of tow trucks that respond within 6 minutes of notification. Quick removal of stalled vehicles and crashes, combined with the MAP, has reduced collisions by more than 10 percent in the first 2 years of operation, saving $70 million in collision costs.
In a September 2007 draft report for the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) titled, The Economic Impact of Traffic Incidents on North Carolina’s Interstate Facilities, modeling results of various case studies showed that deployment of either IMAPs or Advanced Traveler Information Systems (ATIS) would return significant monetary savings. The report also stated that a higher level of service/deployment would also bring more economic benefits to the overall transportation system. The Pennsylvania Transportation Institute completed a benefit-cost ratio evaluation 1.5 years after the onset of the parkway service patrols that included the benefits of having the service patrol. However, the evaluation was never matched against the costs associated with having the patrol.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) created the Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) in 1997. The most recent update was in December 2004. The objective of this document is to provide a comprehensive plan to substantially reduce vehicle-related fatalities and injuries on the nation’s highways. The SHSP does not focus on the contribution that service patrols can provide in this area, but the report highlights the significant promise that ITS holds for improving safety above and beyond the goals of the SHSP. The report points out that while some ITS programs will see immediate results, others will see results as large-scale deployment of new vehicles and technologies occur. One of the 16 ITS programs that help departments of transportation reach their mission and work toward meeting the Congestion Initiative, as well as the SHSP, is a TIM system. The SHSP can be the foundation upon which to build other interagency operations such as a TIM system. A TIM system can reduce the effects of incident-related congestion by decreasing the time to detect, respond, and return traffic to normal conditions. Incident management systems use a variety of technologies, including service patrols, to facilitate coordinated responses to incidents.
The U.S. DOT’s Emergency Transportation Operations (ETO) initiative is designed to foster the development of tools and processes that support transportation system operators during a wide range of emergencies. The ultimate goal is to promote faster and better-prepared responses to major incidents and evacuations. The Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) ITS Web site reports that more than 400 tropical storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and highway HAZMAT incidents require evacuation each year in the U.S. These incidents, combined with winter weather, wild fires, multi-vehicle crashes, and security incidents, require the U.S. to be prepared for any eventuality. It is important that responders reach each scene, victims are evacuated from the danger zone, and clearance and recovery resources arrive on time. The ETO initiative has identified that effective real-time management of transportation during major incidents results in more timely responses to highway and HAZMAT incidents and shorter incident durations. The initiative is achieved by improving all forms of transportation emergencies by applying ITS technologies. Using FFSPs is one of these real-time ITS technologies.
Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8 “National Preparedness” (HSPD-8), issued in December 2003, establishes policies for strengthening the preparedness of the U.S. to prevent and respond to threatened or actual domestic terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. The directive stated that this approach could be achieved by requiring a national domestic, all-hazards preparedness goal; establishing mechanisms for improved delivery of Federal preparedness assistance to State and local governments; and outlining actions to strengthen preparedness capabilities of Federal, State, and local entities. The National Preparedness Goal, established in March 2005, called for the creation of a fully integrated, adaptable, all-hazards preparedness system. The result was the Target Capabilities List (TCL) published in September 2007. As part of the “Response Mission Area,” the TCL addressed on-site incident management, which is defined as “the capability to effectively direct and control incident activities by using the ICS consistent with the National Incident Management System (NIMS).” Many service patrol programs currently use ICS. According to the TCL, the event is managed safely, effectively, and efficiently through the common framework of the ICS. The TCL goes on to state that all Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) are coordination functions (e.g., providing resources). ESFs can be involved in on-scene command and work in Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs), as required, to provide the incident management organization with the resources it needs. Transportation is ESF 1. Command is usually a local/county or state responsibility. A department of transportation’s TMC can work in concert with EOCs to coordinate assets before, during, and after an event. Or, for smaller events, departments of transportation can work directly with other TIM responders, using their service patrol program, to aid in quickly clearing an incident.
The National Response Framework (NRF), effective March 22, 2008, clearly states that the responsibility for responding to incidents, both natural and manmade, begins at the local level—with individual and public officials in the county, city, or town affected by the incident. The NRF also reports that any incident can have a mix of public health, economic, social, environmental, criminal, and political implications with potentially serious long-term effects. The NRF declares that the primary role of State government is to supplement and facilitate local efforts before, during, and after incidents.
Service patrols fit in the framework of the NRF and TCL by the nature of the services they offer and their function as a TIM responder. As a part of the incident management system in ITS, service patrols provide departments of transportation with an operational capability that fixed assets are not able to provide. The on-scene presence of the service patrol helps the departments of transportation increase their reach either through the TMC during more localized incidents or through the EOCs during large-scale incidents.
Because of their mobility and training, service patrols can provide assistance. One service patrol program surveyed reported that it will engage in checking vehicles stopped on or under critical infrastructure and encourage drivers to move along. In Boston, for example, CVS Samaritan vans were sent to Florida after a recent hurricane to assist in recovery efforts. Road Rangers, HERO, and HELP are used to coordinate various aspects of evacuations and provide support to motorists. Maryland’s Emergency Traffic Patrol is used for signal operations to re-time signals along alternate routes as needed. The Houston Metropolitan Police Department’s MAP vehicles worked during Hurricane Rita to escort field trucks and offer cases of water. MAP also escorted fuel tankers and provided much-needed assistance to the public. The Incident Response Units (IRU) in Washington State reported they can assist the State Patrol or National Guard as needed. Since the IRU service patrols are trained in the NIMS, they can provide services during all types of incidents.
Most service patrol programs that responded to the survey did not work outside their regular patrol services. Since incident responses are not just limited to vehicle assistance, service patrols with proper training are able to go beyond traditional roadside services and deliver support to any incident that may strike a community. This ability is an important asset to any department of transportation and the community during times of crisis.
This Handbook provides guidance to decision-makers and operators of service
patrols to identify features of service patrols that will make them most
effective. Many agencies are already operating service patrols and may want to
compare their current services against the features of a baseline, mid-level,
and FFSP. The primary features of these three service patrol levels are
outlined below and more fully described in the remainder of the Handbook.
Baseline Service PatrolA baseline service patrol will:
Mid-level Service PatrolA mid-level service patrol will:
FFSPAn FFSP will:
The 2000 FHWA report Incident Management Successful Practices: A Cross-Cutting Study refers to incident management as the process of managing multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional responses to highway traffic disruptions. To address congestion issues that traffic incidents cause, service patrol programs must take an efficient and coordinated approach. One of the fundamental functional needs of service patrol programs is to establish MOUs and mutual-aid agreements. Universally, the service patrol programs surveyed discussed creating stronger relationships with law enforcement and other TIM responders. As service patrols become a routine part of the first response landscape, a need to formalize agreements and set service scopes exists among agencies involved in incident response. From a technological standpoint, service patrol programs with MOUs, which are supported by ITS technology within their TMC, are better able to exchange information with law enforcement departments and EOCs during an incident. The ability to share and request any resource enables the FFSP program to not only assist other responders but also request and receive assistance when needed.
A dedicated program is a fundamental, functional need when moving a service patrol program to an FFSP. A robust FFSP is tasked strictly with only a service patrol assignment. One way to achieve this is through dedicated funding and training. Every program surveyed was able to either show a sound benefit-cost ratio or show customer feedback that was extremely positive toward the service patrol program and the department or agency responsible for it. Dedicated programs do not have to split priorities, fight for resources, or share personnel. Without these constraints, programs can focus on coverage areas and expanding existing services. Transitioning from a program that responds after notification to one that is proactive in its response is a move toward being a dedicated program.
Most service patrols surveyed said they need more personnel. In many cases, more people were needed to keep up with the demands of an expanding program. However, problems with turnover and retention were identified as limiting service patrols. Temporary staffing was considered as a poor solution to this problem. To migrate toward an FFSP program, service patrols need to invest in individuals that have the skills and aptitude for this type of service. For example, the Illinois DOT (IDOT) Emergency Traffic Patrol (Minutemen) program and the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs teamed up in 2007 to make veterans aware of the opportunities available as service patrol operators.
Supervisors and operators need to be fully trained and training needs to be ongoing. A well-informed, well-paid, and well-trained operator is a service patrol’s best investment. Retaining people who have experience and are able to work in the incident management environment is an important part of the service patrol program. Many of those surveyed stated that if more funding were available, they would also increase the salary paid to service patrol operators as a way to retain drivers and protect the investment made in them.
For many of the programs surveyed for migration to FFSPs, expanding service hours and service areas was the primary need. Seven of the surveyed programs only operate during weekday rush-hour periods and only cover specified geographic areas. Several other programs operated during the rush hours and during the daylight hours between the morning and afternoon rush hours. Expanding the hours of coverage to 24 hours, 7 days-a-week and increasing the geographic area served offers the public a complete full-service program. This ability to provide 24 hours, 7-days-a-week service over a larger service area will aid in congestion mitigation over the entire transportation system. Special event coverage by service patrols was not a common function for all service patrol programs. Special event traffic operations can put an additional strain on the transportation system, and a service patrol operation can assist with incidents that may occur during the special event, thereby improving traffic conditions.
FFSP programs must be supported by a comprehensive communications network and equipment and the TMC. The network allows these full-function programs to reach out quickly to other stakeholders and request resources in real time. The ability to share and receive timely information only increases a service patrol’s effectiveness when facing a myriad of incidents. The ability to share real-time information allows the TMC to provide better information to motorists about the roadway conditions and potentially hazardous locations.
FFSP programs must engage in outreach that spreads awareness of the program and provides safety education to the community and other stakeholders. Conferences and working groups provide awareness between other service patrol programs and stakeholders, respectively. FFSP programs work with local partners to build awareness and coordinate training and exercises, review lessons learned, and create a better understanding of everyone’s role during an incident. Likewise, outreach to the community about the service is also an essential function. Motorists should be aware of the program, its services, and methods so they may request service when required. Motorist awareness also enables the public to report incidents they observe. Part of public awareness is easily recognizable service patrol vehicles and uniformed drivers. Motorists must feel confident that the vehicles and the drivers stopping to assist them are part of an official program and present no danger to them.
Migration to an FFSP should include training on specific incidents, communications equipment, and the tools used daily on the job. As service patrol equipment and services are expanded, training must also expand, evolve with the program, and be regularly updated. Awareness of and/or practical training in various areas of incident management are characteristics of an FFSP. Training with other first responders can only enhance skills and awareness of everyone’s role during an incident.
Updating fleets and equipment is essential when considering a move to an FFSP. Having the right equipment for the service provided and having the support behind the program to expand services are important considerations. Continued maintenance of the fleet and the ability to update and upgrade as required is another function of an FFSP.
However, expansion, outreach, and training can be achieved only when properly funded. FFSP programs require dedicated funding and the ability to use that funding to improve and expand the service patrol program. FFSPs also perform measurements of their progress. Through comprehensive analysis and evaluations, an FFSP can determine the program’s value and justify the services they provide, hours of operation, and geographic areas of service. These measurements aid the full-function program in providing the most cost-effective and efficient services to its community and demonstrates the program’s value to decision makers and the public.
Essential features of an FFSP program are proper funding, a dedicated program, and establishing MOUs to define roles and responsibilities. In addition to funding, an institutional-related priority includes FFSPs being a major component of an ongoing, sustained TIM program. In this context, FFSPs should be regular participants in incident debriefs. Also, a TIM program can serve as the foundation for developing a methodology for regularly assessing and measuring FFSP performance.
For an FFSP, it is essential to have 24 hours, 7-days-a-week coverage that includes support for special events and evacuations. It also is essential that service patrol programs have a comprehensive training program, reliable communications, and a notification system for incident recognition and response. In addition, service areas must be determined through proper analysis and areas of coverage and service must not be limited by lack of personnel. A TMC is an essential element for supporting service patrol programs. Service patrol programs that wish to be considered FFSP programs must have either operational guidelines or SOPs or both. Both contract and in-house operations staff must be trained in the ICS, emergency TTC, equipment and tools use, HAZMAT assessment, and basic first aid. Supportive legislation and policies, such as open roads and safe, quick clearance, must also be in place to allow service patrols and incident responders to focus on their primary mission. Some level of background checks on drivers should be required to ensure that those interacting with the public are not a safety risk. A method to measure benefit-cost is also essential.
Once the essential features are in place, expanding specific services that service patrols can provide is a desired second step. For example, through proper training, service patrol programs may administer standard first aid and CPR. All FFSPs should have the ability to communicate directly with law enforcement to provide assistance to incidents where needed. Having mobile laptops installed in service patrol vehicles can facilitate reporting, communications, and monitoring capabilities.
All FFSPs must be able to tow vehicles, primarily through in-house operations as part of their own fleet or, secondarily, by contracting. This feature would include having all forms of towing capabilities from heavy-duty towing vehicles to standard towing vehicles.
Some additional desired equipment could include:
When considering outreach, another highly desirable feature of an FFSP is public education on roadway incident safety (in the event that motorists find themselves involved in some type of incident), as well as public awareness. Providing information about the FFSP program through a Web site should be an essential part of outreach and awareness.
Optional features for service patrol programs include using advanced equipment or training that goes above and beyond traditional services provided by service patrols during incident response. For example, training service patrol operators to be paramedics, EMTs, or level 1 firefighters is an optional feature. Also, defibrillators are considered optional; though using them can enhance the lifesaving training techniques that service patrol programs employ.
Requiring a standard vehicle for all service patrols in the U.S. is not essential to successfully implementing FFSPs across the country. However, when the operating agency selects a vehicle, it is essential that the vehicle accommodate the defined service patrol functions and the required equipment.
Requiring in-house staff to operate the service patrol was not considered because contract services can provide resources to run a service patrol program that could not otherwise be operated by an agency. Contracted services, however, must be well defined in the contract and monitored to ensure compliance.
The organizational structure of the program is also not a feature that should be mandated. The survey found a variety of organizational structures and agencies that are successfully providing service patrol functions. In addition, a number of successful funding models are being used around the country. The funding stream must be adequate, reliable, dedicated, and long term to allow sufficient planning for services and fleet expansion and replacement needs. Each jurisdiction should determine what organizational and funding structure works best for its area to support the services they want to provide as part of an FFSP.
Another consideration was having the service patrol operate as a PPP. While a PPP may provide resources to support the capital and operational cost of a program, it is not a requirement for success. In fact, in some states, legislation to allow a PPP may be a difficult measure to pass. Therefore, it is a consideration, not a requirement.
Finally, a standard name for a service patrol is not required for success. The survey found a variety of names to describe a service patrol. While some benefit to motorist awareness is gained throughout locales offering service patrols, a common name is not a requirement for success. As long as the service is easily recognizable to the public and is marketed consistently to the public under a particular name, the name of the service can vary to meet local needs.
It is assumed that operations carried out by FFSP programs can be performed without danger to the driver, equipment, and traveling public. An FFSP assumes that dedicated funding is available and used to support the program entirely. Also, it is assumed that governmental support is available to operate the program and that participating agencies are cooperative and supportive of the service patrol function. Finally, it is assumed that service patrols are a benefit to traffic congestion and do not add to the problem.
Constraints to service patrol programs are inadequate funding, training, and resources. Service patrols normally work in heavy traffic conditions and are impacted by human factors that affect the ability of the service patrol operators to safely and efficiently do their jobs.
July 9, 2008
United States Department of Transportation – Federal Highway Administration
Last Modified: August 21, 2008