Different states with varying regulations can often make the simplest heavy haul an involved project. But when it comes to successful travel, even the most massive loads rely on a host of intricate details to make it from Point A to Point B. Que the heavy haul permitting industry. Coordinating information, maintaining the validity of permits and understanding travel restrictions are all in the job description and a necessity in the execution of transporting oversized loads across the country or down the road.
American Cranes & Transport consulted with three permitting industry leaders about their takeaways on today’s permitting environment. Our Roundtable includes; Scott Boehm, president, West Chester Permit; John Incontrera, owner, High Wide and Heavy; and Gladys Work, government and customer relations manager, Comdata.
What are the biggest challenges facing permitting companies?
BOEHM: The biggest challenges facing permit companies in today’s market are maintaining a positive cash flow, finding and training new employees and keeping up with changing rules and regulations.Cash flow is crucial in the trucking industry and permitting is no exception. Most permits require payment before they are issued. Some permits even require payment just to apply for them. Many permits can be expensive, especially overweight permits for ton per mile states and superloads that require engineering. Permit companies typically charge a fraction of these fees which can create a strain on cash flow if not monitored closely. The uptick in the industry exacerbates this as more funds are required in accounts to keep up with increased permit volumes.Employees can be difficult to find as not many people even know that this industry exists. Most employees must be trained from the ground up, requiring extensive time and resources to get up to speed. Rules and regulations may be slow to change by individual governing bodies, but when considering all states, provinces, cities and counties as a whole, quite a bit can change in a year. Keeping abreast of these changes and understanding how laws are interpreted and enforced can be challenging.
INCONTRERA: As always, the coordination of information. When permitting across several states, coordinating the voluminous information necessary and disseminating it correctly is a huge challenge. It becomes an even bigger challenge when we must educate both sides. For instance, we need to explain why the respective DOT office needs additional information not required by other states, then explain to the DOT office why the permittee wants to permit in a particular way. We as a permit service have many masters to serve. We do our best to keep all parties informed and updated, all the while trying to educate ourselves of the ever-changing requirements and regulations.
WORK: Some of the biggest challenges include travel restrictions, which can vary by jurisdiction for weekend or holiday travel, turnaround time on the issuance of a permit and the number of days for which a permit is valid. Another big challenge is just keeping up with regulations.
How has the automation of permitting applications and routing system processes impacted your operations?
BOEHM: Permit system automation has enabled us to procure permits faster than ever with live updates on permit statuses. This enables our customers to better coordinate loads which ultimately leads to greater profitability for all.
INCONTRERA: Some states like Maryland, Connecticut and Massachusetts recently updated their systems. Routing has become simpler, as long as you know how to manipulate the system. Process times are slightly quicker than in the past. It would be great if the local offices could follow the larger municipalities with automated permitting. We find it comes down to the money. Local offices don’t have the funds to keep up.
WORK: Automation has helped tremendously by allowing us to process permits faster. It also helps to alleviate routing errors that could impact the public and empowers the jurisdictions to focus on more complex routing, which can be time consuming. It’s a great way to ensure that a customer is fully aware of all restrictions so that they can ensure a load is moved safely.
How do you characterize local permitting? What can be done to streamline local permitting?
BOEHM: The demand for local permits has increased as more cities and counties are requiring permits for over-dimensional travel. These permits tend to be more time consuming as these jurisdictions are typically where states were before automated systems and require fax-in or email applications. Many only have one point of contact, and no permits get issued if that person is out. We efficiently handle local permits by maintaining relationships. Our higher permit volumes keep us in touch and having detailed processes and procedures in place for ordering permits ensures consistent expectations and results.
INCONTRERA: I have found the most efficient way to obtain local permitting is to contact the county and ask for permission to utilize their streets before applying for the state permit.
WORK: The demand for local permits is certainly increasing. In fact, according to our data, the volume for local jurisdiction permits continues to grow year-over-year by approximately 20 percent. We continue to see additional cities/counties surfacing each year, especially as the need for maintaining and upgrading existing roadways becomes imperative. As long as the ownership of the road can be identified, it is just a matter of contacting the jurisdiction for requirements. Each time we identify a new city or county, we ensure that our associates are trained and update our system as necessary.
What sectors are most active in heavy hauling?
BOEHM: Currently all sectors of business appear to be active. The seasonal winter slowdown was hardly noticeable this year but was welcome by some customers as a relief from the strong summer.
INCONTRERA: We have seen a rise in pre-cast concrete and structural steel, as many municipal projects would rather erect a prefab structure than fabricate onsite. Most of our escort work has been construction related; this follows the trend we have seen over the past few years. Boats and other large toys have fallen off with the fall in the economy. I assume we will see them again if the economy comes all the way back.
WORK: The biggest trends we are seeing revolve around continued activity in the oilfield and construction industries. We attribute this to a favorable trucking economy, as GDP growth remains steady and solid. Regarding demand for local permits, these permitting needs tend go hand-in-hand with state permitting trends.
What are the keys to running a successful permits services business in 2018?
BOEHM: The keys to running a successful permit service are continuous improvement and doing what you say you are going to do. With so many states, provinces, cities and counties to work with, something is always changing. Keeping up with those changes is crucial to minimizing turnaround time and assuring customers have the best information available to make decisions and for permit companies to do what they say they are going to do.
INCONTRERA: The key to success for our permit service is communication and delegation. Communication with your customers is vital. If a permit service doesn’t understand what a customer is looking to accomplish, the process is bound to fail. Delegation and cooperation within the office is important to ensure permit processing is efficient and timely to accommodate our customer’s needs.
WORK: The key to running a successful permit service is understanding carrier needs, having knowledgeable associates, as well as ensuring that permits are obtained quickly. We continually stay abreast of regulatory changes in the industry that impact carriers. We leverage our relationships and meet regularly with state officials to find out what might be coming down the pipe. And of course, safety should always be in the forefront when issuing permits for over-dimensional loads.