The Oregon Department of Transportation calls them "a mark of distinction." OOIDA President Jim Johnston calls them "the absolute height of bureaucratic arrogance." But regardless of which viewpoint is adopted, Oregon's new "Trusted Carrier Partner" (TCP) vanity license plates are on their way to becoming a common sight around the state.
The Motor Carrier Transportation Branch (MCTB) of the ODOT has recently begun to issue its Trusted Carrier Partner plates to "exemplary" Oregon-registered carriers.
The program began in July, when ODOT Director Grace Crunican presented the first four plates at an inaugural ceremony. Since that time, MCTB Manager Gregg Dal Ponte says there are more than 169 carriers currently enrolled as Trusted Carrier Partners, with a combined fleet of 949 vehicles.
Carriers initially qualify for the red and white, star-adorned plates by enrolling in the Green Light program (a transponder program shared by several northwestern states). In addition, they must receive an excellent rating from the DOT for compliance with registration, tax, and safety requirements.
There is no requirement for the number of trucks that a carrier's fleet must have. Owner-operators with one truck are just as eligible as the larger trucking companies.
"We have several owner-operators who are Trusted Carriers," said an official from the Oregon Department of Transportation. The benefits of becoming a Trusted Carrier Partner include the possibility of a waiver of surety bond requirements and a 50 percent discount of the cost of any over-dimension, single-trip permit issued by ODOT. TCPs will be free from random safety inspection or safety compliance reviews, the ODOT website says, "unless warranted."
"The program is intended to help us direct our enforcement efforts to where they're needed," Dal Ponte says.
TCPs can lose this preferred status, however, for failure to maintain appropriate safety requirements and compliance with Green Light. According to James Brock, program coordinator, ODOT has disqualified one carrier to date who was initially approved to be a TCP.
"The driver had the plates one month, and had to return them," he says.
The motivation behind the transponder-related program is causing ODOT and some carriers to take opposing viewpoints.
OOIDA President Jim Johnston has referred to TCP and the Green Light transponder program as "electronic surveillance," particularly as it relates to the weight mile tax.
"Oregon's antiquated, outdated, unenforceable weight mile tax is the highest in the nation," he says. "Do you think farmers and ranchers in Oregon write down every mile they run down the road? They don't. And nobody else does either. The state says this represents $60 million in lost revenue. Legislators have been looking for a way to recoup the losses and transponders are being considered as a method of accomplishing this."
Johnston also says that redirecting the ODOT's enforement efforts to non-TCP truckers is a way of pushing other drivers to join.
"Less focus on the Trusted Carrier Partners means more focus on the non-Trusted Carrier Partners," he says. "And a lot of truckers will join the program just so they can get the ODOT off their backs."
Johnston expressed his concerns with the program in a June letter to Dal Ponte.
"It appears as though this program is an effort to... force the industry to accept your system of electronic surveillance for purposes of tax collection and enforcement," Johnston wrote.
But to the MCTB, the program is not necessarily directed at luring drivers into using Green Light.
"The (TCP) program was an afterthought, frankly," Brock says. "We saw it as one more way to use our resources. We are simply doing electronically what we have always done manually. But "For the $45 (transponder fee), I don't know why drivers wouldn't want to save five or 10 minutes. The concept of weigh station preclearance is bigger than all of us."
Brock maintains that the transponder is a time-saving device, and that despite criticism, the concept has the best of intentions.
"We know that a lot of drivers are safe. We thought the industry would appreciate being recognized. They might go so far as being proud to have (a vanity plate)."
Brock says no one within the state has openly opposed the Trusted Carrier Partner program, but notes that "people outside of the state have been highly critical, largely because it utilizes a different clearance model."
According to Brock, Idaho, Utah, and Washington (all of which are participants in Green Light) thought the TCP program was "a great idea." He says he does not know if any of them are planning on adopting similar programs.LL
- Jason Cisper