HERMON, Maine — When Pottle’s Transportation Inc. first put trucks on the road in 1972, dispatchers and managers at the home office knew what was happening on the road only when drivers dropped dimes in pay phones and called in.
A recently installed computer program allows workers in Hermon to know where trucks are at all times in real time, Barry Pottle, president and chief operating officer, told U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Wednesday when she visited the company’s headquarters off Odlin Road. The computer also keeps an electronic log, which is almost impossible to falsify compared to the old paper logs drivers used for years, he said.
Pottle said that in addition to improving efficiency for the firm and allowing drivers to go paperless, transportation and law enforcement officers, who check the logs at weigh stations and traffic stops, also like the new software.
“The driver can simply hand the computer to the officer so he or she can see the electronic log,” Pottle said as the program was demonstrated for Collins. “If the officer or transportation official sees something that raises a concern, the driver can fax the log to computers in their vehicles so officials have records of the log.”
Pottle said his company and one other in Maine are the only two transportation firms in the state using electronic logs. He estimated that about 20 percent of the trucking firms in the nation have gone to paperless logs.
Collins said she was very impressed by Pottle’s commitment to efficiency and safety.
The senator frequently checks in with trucking firms because how they are doing is a pretty good barometer of how the economy is doing, she said.
“If manufacturers aren’t shipping goods, they aren’t producing goods and that’s not good,” Collins said.
Pottle said that although he has been able to keep most of his fleet of 115 company-owned trucks on the road, 1,100 transportation firms with five or more trucks went out of business in the U.S. in the first six months of 2010. That took 44,000 trucks off the roads, he said.
The two also discussed the Dec. 16 expiration of the pilot program that allows trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds to travel on Interstate 95 north of Augusta. Collins said Wednesday it is doubtful the program will be extended for another year due to opposition from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and other lawmakers outside New England.
Collins is one of three senators to introduce a bill known as the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act, which would allow Maine and other states to increase limits on federal highways to up to 97,000 pounds. Collins said Wednesday that she hoped the bill, which has the support of other members of the Maine congressional delegation, would pass.
The truck weight issue has been contentious in eastern and northern Maine because current rules allow the heavier trucks on the Maine Turnpike, but force them off at Augusta and onto narrower secondary roads in the region’s towns and cities, including Bangor.
The federal government has imposed a limit of 80,000 pounds on interstate highways since 1974. About a dozen states have various exemptions that allow the use of heavier trucks.
A recent Maine Department of Transportation study showed that Maine could save between $1.7 million and $2.3 million a year in reduced pavement repair if the weight limit increases were made permanent.
BDN writer Eric Russell contributed to this report.