Permitting prosperity requires a keen eye

04 March 2019

In 2019 we have self-driving, electric cars, augmented and virtual reality training and artificial intelligence advancing by the day. In such an evolving world, it only makes sense that a variety of industries grow alongside it. When asked about the future of the permitting industry, John Incontrera, High Wide & Heavy, had three words: “Technology, technology, technology.”

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Permitting processes continue to evolve alongside advancing technology. 

A bright future

Mike Harrison, director of IT and marketing for Custom Permits also echoed this sentiment, referencing the evolution of permitting for electric, self-driving cars, such as Teslas. He joked that self-driving semi-trucks from Uber may also be on the horizon.

“I’m excited to see where everything goes because I think there’s a lot of potential for automation too,” said Harrison. “We are working on a lot of technology right now to speed up the permitting process and that helps out the states a lot because the states, to implement any technology, have to get it passed by legislation, which takes forever. Any updates that get implemented take about three years, if I’m being realistic.”

With states becoming more proficient in technology, Harrison said that he predicts that they will eventually have better systems to deal with all of the varying permits as everything moves more towards technology.

There is now a booming opportunity in North America for high paying truck driver and crane operator jobs, which is also good for pilot car and permitting companies.

“Most of the time the driver just wants to be on the road making money, and they don’t want to have to worry about paperwork,” Harrison added. “They don’t want to have to worry about filling stuff out. They want somebody else to do all that work. So that’s kind of where we come in.”

With permitting companies’ futures looking bright, American Cranes & Transport consulted with four permitting industry players to discuss all things permitting. This year’s panel includes John Incontrera, owner, High, Wide & Heavy Oversize; Valerie Incontrera, office manager/accounts payable, High, Wide & Heavy Oversize; Scott Boehm, president, West Chester Permit; and Mike Harrison, director of IT and marketing, Custom Permits.

How would you characterize the current market for permitting?

John Incontrera: Interesting, although, some of the improvements in automated permitting systems make for faster turnaround times, and varying regulations make it very difficult for carriers to coordinate across several municipalities. High, Wide & Heavy Oversize is successful in this sector, as we are able to communicate the requirements to the carrier and the carrier’s needs to the municipalities, spanning the communication gap.

Boehm: The current market for permitting is following the economy and remains very strong and in high demand. This time of year is always a little slower due to winter weather. Our customers remain optimistic and are investing in new equipment to keep up with industry growth.

Harrison: In the trucking industry, a lot of it can be held up by weather sometimes. So, with the recent ‘Polar Vortex’ it kind took a hit. And of course, over the holidays things kind of slowed down, but we anticipated it definitely picking up a lot. I know with all of the online shopping going on these days, so much more shipping is going on. I’ve been reading a lot of articles about how there are not enough truck drivers available in the industry. More people may be taking driver jobs because more white-collar jobs are being flooded. That leaves a lot to be had for the blue collar businesses, and especially in the trucking industry. There are lots of truckers out there making a lot of money, compared to what they used to make.

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The current market for permitting remains very strong and in high demand.

How has the automation of permitting applications and routing system processes impacted your operations?

Valerie Incontrera: The automation of routing on the permit requests has made it possible for us to cut our turnaround times in half. High, Wide & Heavy Oversize customers get their permits quicker, with less denials. These new systems have also allowed for Department of Transportation (DOT) offices to “return for clarification” rather than a full denial and re-submission which would make you start the whole process over.

Boehm: Automated permitting and routing systems have enabled state employees to focus on the non-routine permits that need the hands-on personal touch. This permit automation has enabled us to procure permits faster than ever, increasing customer satisfaction and ultimately their bottom line. We continue to automate our systems, just like the states and localities, to further improve the overall process.

Harrison: I don’t know about a hard number, but we have definitely reduced the time to process a permit. It’s hard to say. If I had to guess, I would say it’s been reduced it by around 70 percent. It used to take 10 minutes, now it only takes two or three.

How does your company manage local permitting most efficiently?

Valerie Incontrera: High, Wide & Heavy Oversize is actually located within New York City (NYC). Although High, Wide & Heavy Oversize does process permit applications for all 48 states, we specialize in NYC DOT permits and NYC oversize route surveys. Many carriers will avoid NYC due to permit/escort providers who don’t have the experience or local knowledge on how to best complete the task safely and efficiently. As for other local municipalities, we have built relationships with local offices over the past 17 years and this allows us to move seamlessly through their systems and procedures. Success in our industry is predicated on communication, which we have been able to accomplish.

Boehm: West Chester Permit manages local permitting by establishing strong relationships and maintaining them with higher permit volume. We also compile detailed processes and procedures for each locality.

Harrison: We have a few different types of permits that we do in Ohio, although it’s interesting as our most popular permits are actually New York HUT (Highway Use Tax) and Florida (International Fuel Tax Authority) IFTA. We are based in Ohio, but we have customers from all 50 states. We actually have a contract with Florida to be able to issue permits on their behalf. The process of securing that contract took a lot of credibility and reputation with our company– which includes being in good standing with all the states – and with that contract outlines all of the requirements of the state. So, we pretty much have contracts set up for that kind of stuff. Most states require the VIN license plate for trucks and the make, fuel type, the basic primary information, etc. So that’s just what we require for all permits. And then certain permit types actually require more information, like maybe the driver’s name or the highways that they’re going to be traveling on. So those are in our system as a field that will only show up if it’s the type of permit that needs that specific information. So, we just kind of have set it up that way in our system to be able to track that. And now humans don’t really have to remember those anymore. They can just let the computer do the work.

Are you seeing a trend in what is being hauled? Are there any trends in local permitting?

John Incontrera: High, Wide & Heavy Oversize is currently seeing an influx of infrastructure-related commodity, as always there are several large municipal projects in our area – Laguardia Airport, Kosciusko Bridge, Goethals Bridge, along with several interstate projects. High, Wide & Heavy Oversize is heavily invested in the LaGuardia Airport project, permitting and escorting over 5,000 oversize loads since the project started 2016.

Boehm: Our customer base is pretty diverse – construction, wind, rigging, steel, manufacturing, etc. All seem to be thriving. One thing that they all seem to have in common is that loads continue to get bigger and bigger. As for local permitting trends, more and more require permits for their roads and the rules and processes vary greatly. Turnaround times often do not meet the needs of the industry.

Harrison: There are not too many out-of-the-box things. We’re seeing mainly construction equipment like excavators, agricultural tractors, that kind of thing. Those are most of the ones that we get.

Permitting app launched

WCS Permits & Pilot Cars kicked off the new year by introducing a new mobile app, the “Permit Portal,” which sends drivers and dispatchers instant automated text message notifications when oversize permits are approved. The free app allows WCS customers to receive an instant text message notification or email as soon as an oversize load permit is available. Customers can request message notifications. Once a WCS permit agent confirms a mobile number in the system, text messages will automatically be sent for each permit approval of the customers load.

As soon as a permit is issued, a WCS agent will attach it to an order that will trigger the automated text message. Once received, the customer can click the link in the text message to open the “Permit Portal” app and view the order to download, print or email the permit.

Supporting documents including route surveys are available along with the permit.

“This new process for delivering permits creates accountability between the permit agent, dispatcher and driver. The progress of the order and associated permits can be viewed in real time by all parties,” said WCS President Wes Mollno. “There will never again be any confusion as to the status of an order. The communication, convenience and simplicity of Permit Portal App has changed the game.”

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Drivers and dispatchers can benefit from the “Permit Portal” app. 


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