BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    






           SENATE TRANSPORTATION & HOUSING COMMITTEE       BILL NO: ab 254
          SENATOR ALAN LOWENTHAL, CHAIRMAN               AUTHOR:  jeffries
                                                         VERSION: 6/16/09
          Analysis by:  Jennifer Gress                   FISCAL:  yes
          Hearing date:  June 23, 2009








          SUBJECT:

          Authorized emergency vehicles:  payment of tolls

          DESCRIPTION:

          This bill establishes the circumstances under which an  
          authorized emergency vehicle is exempt from paying a toll on a  
          tolled facility.

          ANALYSIS:

          Existing law makes every vehicle using a toll bridge or toll  
          highway liable for any tolls or other charges that may be  
          prescribed and prohibits a person from evading or attempting to  
          evade the payment of those tolls or charges.  

          If a vehicle is found, by automated devices (including cameras),  
          by visual observation, or otherwise, to have evaded a toll, a  
          toll operator shall issue to the registered owner of the vehicle  
          a notice of toll evasion violation within 21 days of the  
          violation.  The notice must describe the violation, the  
          approximate time and location of the violation, the vehicle  
          license plate number, a clear and concise explanation of the  
          procedures to contest the violation, and if practicable, the  
          registration expiration date and the make of the vehicle.  If  
          the toll operator is unable to obtain accurate information  
          concerning the identity and address of the registered owner  
          within 21 days of the violation, it shall have an additional 45  
          calendar days to issue the notice.  

          Toll evasion penalties include any late payment penalty,  
          administrative fee, fine, assessment, and costs of collection.   




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          Existing law limits toll evasion violation penalties to $100 for  
          the first offense, $250 for a second within one year, and $500  
          for each additional violation within one year.

          Existing law defines an "authorized emergency vehicle" as any of  
          the following:

           Any publicly owned and operated ambulance, lifeguard, or  
            lifesaving equipment or any privately owned or operated  
            ambulance licensed by the Commissioner of the California  
            Highway Patrol (CHP) to operate in response to emergency  
            calls.


           Any publicly owned vehicle operated by the following persons,  
            agencies, or organizations:

             o    Any federal, state, or local agency, department, or  
               district employing peace officers as for use by those  
               officers in the performance of their duties.
             o    Any forestry or fire department of any public agency or  
               fire department organized in accordance with state law.

           Any vehicle owned by the state, or any bridge and highway  
            district, and equipped and used either for fighting fires, or  
            towing or servicing other vehicles, caring for injured  
            persons, or repairing damaged lighting or electrical  
            equipment.

           Any state-owned vehicle used in responding to emergency fire,  
            rescue, or communications calls and operated either by the  
            Office of Emergency Services or by any public agency or  
            industrial fire department to which the Office of Emergency  
            Services has assigned the vehicle.

           Any vehicle owned or operated by any department or agency of  
            the United States government when the vehicle is used in  
            responding to emergency fire, ambulance, or lifesaving calls  
            or is actively engaged in law enforcement work.

           Any vehicle for which an authorized emergency vehicle permit  
            has been issued by the Commissioner of CHP.

          An authorized emergency vehicle is exempt from most traffic  
          laws, including speed laws, stopping at signs and signals, and  
          driving on the right side of the road, under the following  




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          conditions:  

           The vehicle is being driven in response to an emergency call,  
            while engaged in rescue operations, is being used in the  
            immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the  
            law, or is responding to, but not returning from, a fire  
            alarm.   Fire department vehicles are exempt whether they are  
            directly responding to an emergency call, being driven from  
            one place to another by reason of emergency call to the scene  
            of the emergency, or driven from one fire station to another  
            or to some other location by reason of an emergency call.   

           The driver of the vehicle sounds a siren as may be reasonably  
            necessary and the vehicle displays a light red lamp visible  
            from the front.
          
           This bill  :

           Exempts an authorized emergency vehicle from any requirement  
            to pay a toll or other charge on a toll facility if the  
            following conditions are met:

             o    The authorized emergency vehicle is properly displaying  
               an exempt California license plate and is properly  
               identified or marked as an authorized emergency vehicle.

             o    The vehicle is being driven while responding to or  
               returning from an urgent or emergency call, is engaged in  
               an urgent or emergency call or response, or is engaging in  
               a fire station coverage assignment directly related to an  
               emergency response.  "Urgent" is defined as an incident or  
               circumstance that requires an immediate response to a  
               public safety-related incident, but does not warrant the  
               use of emergency warning lights.  "Urgent" does not include  
               personal, commuting, training, or administrative uses of  
               the vehicle.

             o    The driver of the vehicle determines that the use of the  
               toll facility is likely to improve the availability or  
               response and arrival time of the vehicle and the delivery  
               of essential public safety services.

           Provides that if a toll facility elects to send a bill or  
            invoice to the public agency for the use of the facility by an  
            authorized emergency vehicle that meets the conditions above,  
            the head of the public agency may certify in writing that the  




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            vehicle was responding to or returning from an emergency call  
            or response and is exempt from payment.  The letter shall be  
            accepted by the toll operator in lieu of payment and shall be  
            considered a public document.

           Provides that, upon information or belief that an authorized  
            emergency vehicle did not meet the conditions to be exempted  
            from liability to pay the toll, the public agency shall make  
            accessible, upon written request, to the toll operator the  
            dispatch records or log books relevant to the time period when  
            the vehicle was in use on the toll facility.

           Provides that the provisions of this bill do not prohibit or  
            amend an agreement into entered between a public agency and a  
            toll operator that establishes mutually-agreed upon terms for  
            the use of the facility, and further provides that they do not  
            preclude a toll operator from establishing a policy that meet  
            or exceeds them.  If either party opts out of the agreement,  
            these provisions do apply, however.  

           Provides that the terms of an agreement between a toll  
            operator and public agency do not extend to other public  
            agencies that may use a toll facility in the jurisdiction of  
            the toll operator when assisting the public agency that is  
            subject to the agreement.
            
           Defines "toll facility" to include a toll road, high-occupancy  
            vehicle lane, toll bridge, or a vehicular crossing for which  
            payment of a toll or other charge is required.


          COMMENTS:

           1.Purpose  .  According to the author, emergency first responders  
            and their vehicles are routinely called upon to provide  
            essential services across California without regard to  
            jurisdictional boundaries.  Toll facilities are operated in  
            various parts in the state.  When responding to an emergency  
            call, emergency vehicles such as fire trucks and policy  
            vehicles sometimes use these tolled facilities either because  
            they provide the quickest route or because they provide access  
            to the incident.  These vehicles are often issued notices of  
            violation when using these facilities to respond to an  
            emergency call.  When responding to a large incident that  
            involves many emergency vehicles, the public agency, such as a  
            fire department, will receive a significant number of tickets  




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            with penalties for failure to pay a toll. 

            Contesting these violations requires a public agency to spend  
            valuable time researching the incident and use of the vehicle,  
            pulling incident logs, contacting vehicle operators, and  
            dealing with bureaucracy in order to prove to the toll  
            operator that their vehicles were responding to an actual  
            emergency.  

            By exempting authorized emergency vehicles from the  
            requirement to pay tolls and by requiring a toll operator to  
            accept a letter from the head of the public agency certifying  
            that the vehicle was responding to an emergency call as  
            sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the vehicle is indeed  
            exempt, this bill establishes a minimum, statewide standard  
            regarding the payment of tolls by emergency service providers  
            and simplifies the process of contesting violations.  
          
           2.Focus of the debate  .  The debate on the payment of tolls by  
            authorized emergency vehicles is less concerned with actual  
            payment and more focused on the bureaucratic difficulties in  
            contesting notices of violation.  Several public agencies have  
            agreements with their local toll operators regarding the  
            payment of tolls and in cases where such agreements do not  
            exist, public agencies acknowledge that toll operators often  
            waive the tolls once the operators are convinced that use of  
            the facility was in response to an emergency.  The process for  
            contesting notices, however, can be cumbersome and a public  
            agency can accrue numerous violations and penalties.  An  
            excerpt from a letter of support from the City of Vallejo  
            illustrates the frustration that several emergency service  
            providers express:

               The north anchorage of the Carquinez (Al Zampa Memorial)  
               Bridge terminates in Vallejo.  As such the Vallejo Police  
               Department frequently responds to calls for service on the  
               bridge to either assist the California Highway Patrol or  
               handle criminal matters that are the responsibility of this  
               Department?It is not uncommon for pursued vehicles to  
               "circle round" and cross over the Bridge traveling north  
               leading Vallejo units through the Toll Booths.  As a  
               result, in almost every case, the City receives a Notice of  
               Toll Violation.

               While Bridge Authorities are generally helpful in clearing  
               these notices, a considerable amount of research and staff  




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               time is required to identify the vehicles involved, locate  
               and copy the dispatch records, contact the officer(s)  
               involved to verify the information and prepare a response  
               to the Toll Collection Agency.  This system has become even  
               more complicated with implementation of FasTrak because the  
               process in [sic] strictly mechanical and we are required to  
               deal with a toll collection contractor rather than State  
               personnel.  Without exaggeration, we receive over 100  
               Notices of Toll Violation each year and because of the  
               complicated procedures needed to clear alleged FasTrak  
               violations, we now are receiving notices from collection  
               agencies.

           3.Issues to consider  .  This bill raises a number of questions  
            that the committee may wish to consider.  

             a.   Are the circumstances under which emergency vehicles  
               would be exempt from payment of tolls and subject to the  
               process established by this bill appropriate?  The  
               circumstances under which an authorized emergency vehicle  
               would be exempt from payment of tolls under this bill  
               include the following:

                     Responding to or returning from an urgent or  
                 emergency call.

                     Engaging in an urgent or emergency response.  This  
                 provision is intended to address situations where an  
                 incident, such as a wildfire, may extend for days and an  
                 emergency vehicle, in the area because of the emergency,  
                 is using the toll facility not necessarily to race to the  
                 fire scene but to return to where personnel are staying  
                 for the duration of the incident (e.g., hotel).    

                     Engaging in a fire coverage assignment directly  
                 related to an emergency response.  This provision is  
                 intended to address situations where an emergency service  
                 provider, such as a fire department, is responding to an  
                 incident located in another jurisdiction.  Personnel and  
                 vehicles from a fire department in a neighboring  
                 jurisdiction may then travel to the jurisdiction of the  
                 fire department that is responding to that incident in  
                 order to provide coverage for the department while its  
                 personnel are away.  These arrangements help to ensure  
                 that communities are served in cases when their own  
                 emergency service providers are away to assist with an  




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                 incident in another jurisdiction.  

               Furthermore, to be exempt from payment of tolls, these  
               situations may be  urgent  or an  emergency  .  Authorized  
               emergency vehicles would only be exempt under these  
               circumstances if using a toll facility would improve the  
                availability  of public safety services or the  response and  
               arrival  of public safety services.  "Urgent" situations are  
               included to address those situations that require a prompt  
               or immediate response, but that don't necessarily require  
               sirens and lights.  A common example is when a fire  
               department in one part of the state travels to another part  
               of the state to fight a large fire.  Improving the  
               "availability" of public safety services refers to  
               returning to a station or another location promptly so that  
               personnel and equipment may be available in the event of  
               another emergency call.

             b.   Who should be responsible for payment of tolls?  The  
               premise of this bill is that authorized emergency vehicles  
               should be exempt from payment of tolls when an urgent or  
               emergency matter exists.  Toll operators generally support  
               this premise by waiving many toll violations once the  
               public agency establishes that the matter causing a vehicle  
               to use a toll facility was in response to a call.  On the  
               one hand, emergency service providers are providing an  
               essential public service that benefits all residents, and  
               they do not choose where or when an emergency occurs.   
               Still, at some point, use of the facility will need to be  
               paid for, either by a user or by the toll operator who  
               absorbs the cost.  Should the payment of tolls be  
               considered part of the cost of operating a service paid for  
               by taxes?  In cases where an emergency service provider is  
               assisting another jurisdiction, there is a process for  
               reimbursement that could include tolls.    
           
          4.Toll facilities in California  .  The following toll facilities,  
            including toll bridges, toll roads, and HOT lanes, are  
            currently in operation in California:

                 Seven state-owned toll bridges in the Bay Area operated  
               by the Bay Area Toll Authority, including the Antioch,  
               Benicia-Martinez, Carquinez, Dumbarton, Richmond-San  
               Rafael, San Francisco-Oakland Bay and San Mateo-Hayward  
               bridges.





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                 The Golden Gate Bridge, operated by the Golden Gate  
               Bridge, Highway and Transportation District.

                 State Highway Routes (SR) 73, 133, 241, and 261, which  
               constitutes 67 miles of toll roads in Orange County,  
               operated by the Transportation Corridor Agencies, a joint  
               powers authority.

                 SR 125, a 10-mile toll road privately operated by South  
               Bay Expressway, Inc., a subsidiary of investment firm  
               Macquarie.

                 SR 91 Express Lanes, ten miles of HOT lanes in the  
               median of SR 91 in Orange County, operated by the Orange  
               County Transportation Authority.

                 I-15 HOT lanes in San Diego County, operated by the San  
               Diego Association of Governments.

            In addition to these, several HOT lane facilities and one toll  
            road (SR 11 in San Diego County) have been planned or are in  
            development around the state.
          
          Assembly Votes:
               Floor:    77-0
               Appr: 15-0
               Trans:    12-0

           POSITIONS:  (Communicated to the Committee before noon on  
                     Wednesday, 
                      June 17, 2009)

               SUPPORT:  California Peace Officers' Association
                         California Police Chiefs Association
                         California Special Districts Association
                         California State Firefighters' Association, Inc.
                         California State Sheriffs' Association
                         City of Vallejo
                         City of Murrieta
                         Peace Officer's Research Association of  
          California
                         San Bernardino County Fire Department

               OPPOSED:  Metropolitan Transportation Commission