Posted: 08/01/2009 01:00:17 AM PDTCruising through traffic Friday afternoon on Interstate 80 in Fairfield, Anthony Yrigollen scanned the shoulders for stranded motorists.
Stopping along the way to tag abandoned cars, his eyes continually looked for flashing hazard lights, letting him know it's time for action.
After a minivan clipped a piece wood lying in the roadway, the driver pulled over to examine the damage. Yrigollen stopped quickly to let the those in the car know he was there to fix the flat, before springing into action that would make some NASCAR pit crews jealous.
Yrigollen operates a tow truck as part of the Freeway Service Patrol (FSP) and roams the freeway during peak traffic hours, looking to help out those in need. The free service has beenoffered in the Bay Area since 1997, but most don't find out about it until the white tow truck pulls up.
"They're surprised it's free. They are very appreciative," he said while preparing for his shift. "For a while it was like we didn't exist. There is no advertisement. No radio spots. But more and more people are starting to recognize us."
The FSP is a joint partnership between the California Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the California Highway Patrol. Using $1 from every vehicle registration fee, combined with federal funding, the program costs $9 million a year, said Raymond Odunlami, FSP program coordinator.
Knowing the state is looking to eliminate billions of dollars,Odunlami said he hasn't heard anything to indicate the program is in danger.
What was once a fleet of 12 trucks patrolling a few hundred miles in the Bay Area, it has now grown to include 83 trucks and 540 miles. Locally the coverage extends to Richards Boulevard near Davis.
The trucks are equipped with gas, water, a car jack, pneumatic wrench, jumper cables and whatever else is necessary to get a driver going again. Most of the rescues are made as drivers patrol the shoulders, butoccasionally they are dispatched by CHP.
For the stretch of freeway in northern Solano County, Vacaville Tow is contracted for service. About 20 companies are contracted for the service in the Bay Area.
Each of those trucks is equipped with special computers and global positioning systems to help locate problem vehicles and communicate with dispatchers if needed.
One thing slowing the operators down is the new law forcing drivers to pull over to use a cell phone. Yrigollen said he now comes up on several drivers who usually drive off when they see him pull up.
Another job is tagging abandoned vehicles, again freeing up CHP officers to patrol the roadways. Although much of his day is spent slugging along in traffic, Yrigollen shrugs it off as part of his job.
"The more you're moving, the more you come across," he said. "That's why it's so successful."
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Story on CA's FSP
Here's the story from The Reporter: