Fixed Facilities and Inspection and Weighing Services for Motor Vehicle Transportation

SIC 4785

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in the inspection and weighing of goods in connection with transportation or in the operation of fixed facilities for motor vehicle transportation, such as toll roads, highway bridges, and other fixed facilities, except terminals. Included in this industry category are companies that check boat cargo before it is transported on trucks; operate highway bridges, tunnels, and toll bridges; operate truck weighing stations; and conduct various inspections. It encompasses firms that serve private facilities as well as companies that contract to perform services for state and federal regulatory agencies.

Because it is dominated by private, localized firms, statistical data for this industry is sparse. Served by the International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association (IBTTA), the industry is largely driven by the need to monitor, for both trade and regulatory purposes, the multibillion dollar U.S. trucking industry. reported that about 2 million tractor-trailers traveled approximately 140 billion miles in the United States in the mid-2000s. Numerous enterprises exist to operate infrastructure, such as toll bridges, and to help enforce a glut of government restrictions regarding the trucking industry as well as other transportation laws. As of 2009, there were 5,238 miles of toll roads, bridges, and tunnels in the United States. About 60 percent of the toll roads were interstate, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) are the primary sources of industry regulations and often employ contractors to enforce their codes. Among other duties, the DOT is responsible for maintaining the highway system and developing and enforcing safety measures. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), for example, conducts annual safety inspections of many of the nation's large trucks. The ICC regulates carrier rates and services and enforces weight and size restrictions on trucks that use interstate highways. In the late 1990s, several states began to implement the Commercial Vehicle Information Systems and Networks (CVISN), an automated electronic system for screening trucks in lieu of having them stop for weight and safety inspections. According to States News Service, the program was designed "to improve safety and productivity for the CMV [commercial motor vehicle] industry; to improve effectiveness and efficiency of CMV enforcement; to improve data exchange between states; and to reduce industry regulations and administrative cost." In order to be considered compliant, states had to address a set of core components established by the FMCSA. Mississippi, for example, conducted a program that employed services in three main areas: the Safety Information Exchange granted officers access to drivers' records online in real time; the Credentials Administration allowed CMV drivers to pay fuel taxes, renew credentials, and so on via the Internet; and the Electronic Screening program utilized virtual weigh stations using specialized cameras and infrared technology to identify overweight and unsafe vehicles.

Commercial trucking has been an important mode of commercial transportation in the United States since the 1930s. The ICC, which was formed in 1887, began regulating the industry in 1935 under the Motor Carrier Act. It was not until the 1950s and 1960s, however, that a large inspection and weighing industry emerged to monitor the trucking industry, which was booming. When the DOT was established in 1966, a profusion of new rules were developed that created a need for commercial motor vehicle inspection and weighing services.

Although the use of motor vehicles for the transport of commercial goods increased significantly during the 1980s and early 1990s, the trend beginning in the early 1980s was toward federal deregulation. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991 mandated uniform state standards that substantially reduced the need for many types of interstate inspection services by the late 1990s. The ISTEA was replaced by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) in 1998, which expired in 2003 and was further superseded by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) in 2005. Although the SAFETEA-LU expired in September 2009, as of September 2010 another highway bill had not been approved to replace it.

In the meantime, companies that operated toll roads, bridges, and tunnels experienced gains from growing trucking activity throughout the 2000s. Although railroad and plane commercial shipping industries became more competitive, the trucking industry benefited from reduced regulations and the integration of new information systems that boosted efficiency. Advanced satellite systems, for example, were launched to track and coordinate truck transportation networks.

States continued to consider toll roads as an efficient means of road financing. Toll projects were viewed as superior to many other alternatives, because they are generally cost effective both in terms of construction and user cost, in addition to relatively fast installation periods. Technologies such as electronic toll collection (EZ Pass) were praised as a way for not disturbing traffic flow and eliminated the need for drivers to carry cash for tolls.

Although commercial truckers continued to boost their share of the U.S. freight industry in the 2000s, job growth in the weighing and inspection industry diminished because of labor-saving automation, such as bar-code scanners and vehicle tracking information systems. Automation reduced toll road and bridge operation jobs as well. In 1999, there were 118 toll facilities that operated with electronic technology, up from 49 in 1995. During the 2000s, technology continued to take over many aspects of the weigh station industry. By the late 2000s, many states had installed weigh-in-motion devices that measured truck height, weight, and axles while the truck was in motion, eliminating the need for drivers to stop at weigh stations.

The industry continued to use technology to make commercial trucking monitoring more efficient as well as to improve the safety of drivers. For example, in 2009 Freescale Semiconductor introduced a system called SafeTraK 3 LDW that monitored lane markings via a monocular camera mounted on a truck's windshield. The device beeped to warn the driver when a vehicle was veering into another lane or when other erratic driving was occurring. According to Freescale, the SafeTraK 3 LDW was designed to prevent accidents that occur due to drivers' inattention, fatigue, or inattention, conditions that factor into 70 percent of all fatal commercial truck driving accidents. Other technologies implemented on a wide scale included inspections that use infrared radar aimed at passing trucks to check for faulty brakes, exhaust leaks, overinflated tires, and other hazardous conditions, and use of GPS (global positioning systems) to collect and report delivery times, mileage, stops, and other important data related to the trucking industry. In the early 2010s, the electronic on-board recorder (EOBR) was replacing the traditional paper log as a means by which to record miles. As of mid-2010, the use of EOBRs was voluntary, although that year the FMCSA mandated EOBRs by companies that had several violations of the "hours of service" rule.

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