Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/15/2004 09:06 AM Senate FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 255(STA) "An Act relating to traffic preemption devices." This was the second hearing for this bill in the Senate Finance Committee. Co-Chair Wilken stated that this legislation would "reserve the use of traffic preemption devices for legitimate authorized users" such as emergency response providers and road maintenance and public transit vehicles. He specified that CS SB 255(STA), Version 23-LS1397\Q was before the Committee, and he reminded that previous concerns regarded whether to use the word "or" or "and" on lines six and seven of Section 16, subsection (a) on page one of the bill that reads as follows. (a) A person commits the crime of unlawful possession or use of a traffic preemption device if the person possesses or uses a traffic preemption device and that person is not at the time of the possession or use operating an emergency vehicle. Co-Chair Wilken also noted that another concern was whether to include public transit vehicles in the exemption, as specified in Section 1, subsection (b)(2) on page one, line 13 through page two, line one that reads as follows. (2) a person operating a motor vehicle involved in highway maintenance or public transit that has been authorized by the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities or a municipality to possess or use a traffic preemption device. Co-Chair Wilken noted that the Department of Health and Social Services supports this legislation. DENNIS MICHEL, Staff to Senator Gene Therriault, the bill's sponsor, noted that he had worked with Co-Chair Green's staff to address the concern regarding the language "possession or use of a traffic preemption device" as specified in Section 1(a). Continuing, he noted that changing this language to "possession and use of a traffic preemption device" would present "a loophole in prosecuting people caught using these devices." He pointed out that "these devices have no other use than to preempt traffic." Co-Chair Green acknowledged that she is comfortable with the bill's existing language. Senator Dyson stated that, while he appreciates the logic of the discussion, he "fundamentally disapproves" of criminalizing the action of possessing "a piece of hardware" as it furthers "our culture's" tendency to penalize people who have done nothing wrong. He likened this situation to anti-gun activists who claim, "that owning a weapon, that is only designed for defense as in shooting people, ought to be outlawed." In summary, he voiced being uneasy about "the slippery slope of criminalizing something when no negative behavior has ever been demonstrated." Senator Olson voiced similar concerns in that a person who might possess but not be able to operate such a device "would be held outside of the standard of being innocent until proven guilty." There being no further discussion regarding the language in Section 1(a), Co-Chair Wilken directed the discussion to Section 1(b)(2). Mr. Michel communicated that utilizing traffic preemptive devices for public transit needs is not uncommon and "does have some merit" as these devices are currently utilized to address traffic problems in such cities as Portland Oregon, Seattle Washington, and Chicago Illinois. Co-Chair Wilken noted that the bill's sponsor has provided Members with "An Overview of Transit Signal Priority" publication [copy on file] that reviews these and other cities' experiences with the traffic exemption devices. TOM WILSON, Director, Public Transportation, Municipality of Anchorage, testified via teleconference from Anchorage, and explained that the Municipality's transit system has identified the implementation of traffic preemptive devices as something they would like to pursue at some point. He stated that a common complaint of most transit systems is "that buses don't run frequently enough and that there is too much time" between scheduled runs. He stated that implementation of developing technology such as traffic preemptive devices could assist in addressing these concerns. He stated that although "long-term field studies" have been not conducted in the United States, information does indicate that "significant advantages and efficiencies" could result by the implementation of "low priority" traffic preemptive devices as opposed to "high priority devices, which would be reserved for police and fire." Mr. Wilson explained that the low priority systems utilized in some cities are automated and have resulted in "significant reductions in trip times." Continuing, he noted that the benefits derived from trip time reductions would include such things as an increased use of the public transit system; decreased use of single occupancy vehicles on the roadways; decreased road maintenance; and reduced emissions. He stated that because of these benefits, "it would be an unfortunate oversight to preclude" public transit system from the ability to utilize these devices. He stated that the Anchorage transit system would coordinate use of these devices with a number of municipality ad hoc committees to include the traffic engineer, the traffic department, and the police and fire agencies. Senator Dyson voiced concern that allowing the transit system to utilize these devices might result in a scenario wherein two lanes of private citizen traffic might be backed up while a city bus, going another direction, preempts the traffic signal in its favor. Therefore, he asked how the program could be implemented to address the competing needs of private citizens. Mr. Wilson responded that this "is a commonly raised concern," and he noted that existing studies indicate when the system is "adequately designed" there is "little or no impact on the travel times of other motorists." Continuing, he explained that rather than being a manual system operated by individual buses, the device could be tailored to specific areas and would be operated by a centralized traffic management center. Furthermore, he stated that once the parameters of the system are established and entered into a traffic management computer, activation rules would limit its use to those times, for instance, when a bus was running ten minutes behind schedule. In conclusion, he stressed that studies indicate there to be little impact on other traffic and that motorists in the vicinity of a bus might benefit by taking advantage of the situation. Senator Dyson voiced disappointment that the response did not include utilization of the device in low traffic times to provide a bus with a green light as opposed to requiring it to wait at an "arbitrary" red light when there was no cross traffic. Therefore, he surmised that routinely the devices are limited to high traffic times. In conclusion, he stated that the response did not assure him that the device's impact on the motorists would be minimal. Mr. Wilson voiced the understanding that the system would allow for protocols to be established in the computer system. Therefore, he continued, Senator Dyson's concerns "could be addressed in that fashion." He stressed that "the predominant application" of the devices has been to address congestion rather than wait times. He informed the Committee that transit vehicles normally spend 15-percent of their trip time waiting at traffic signals, and therefore, he noted, studies indicate that this device would "significantly reduce" that wait time by up to 40-percent on average. This, he stated, would reduce a 60-minute round-trip to 55-minutes and therefore, providing "a more competitive service." Senator Dyson disclosed that he would be more comfortable with the implementation of traffic devices were they approved through a local citizen or local assembly vote process. He noted that the residents of Anchorage have not, historically, been supportive of the local transit authority. He asked whether the communities that have implemented the device did so upon voter consideration. Mr. Wilson responded that everything he had seen indicated that the device was "implemented through local ordinances and local processes, but not necessarily subject to a vote." Mr. Michel noted that language in Section 1(b)(2) on page one of the bill specifies that implementation of the preemptive device must be authorized by the local municipality. He opined that this language, which reads as follows, should address Senator Dyson's concern. (2) a person operating a motor vehicle involved in highway maintenance or public transit that has been authorized by the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities or a municipality to possess or use a traffic preemption device. Co-Chair Wilken observed that the language includes the word "or" and could therefore allow for authorization either by the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT) or the municipality. Mr. Michel concurred but stated that due to the fact that DOT does not have a bus system, the authorization would be by the municipality. Senator Bunde commented that this language would "not allow for a vote of the people." Senator Bunde understood that the Anchorage transit system does not currently own any traffic preemptive devices. Mr. Wilson responded that is correct. He noted that a limited number of intersections in the Municipality are equipped with the devices of which only the fire department could activate. He was unsure as to whether the police department was equipped with the devices. Senator Bunde asked for a cost estimate for outfitting the bus transit system. Mr. Wilson responded that an initial cost study indicates that the transit system's portion of the total cost of purchasing transmitters, receivers, and computers would amount to three million dollars. He noted that the majority of the transit system's expenses would be eligible to receive federal "intelligent transportation system" funding "which frequently requires no local match." Senator Olson asked how the Municipality of Anchorage with a population of less than 300,000 could compare its transportation needs to those of "much larger cosmopolitan areas." Mr. Wilson responded that rather than comparing Anchorage to those larger cities that have these devices, the intent was to provide examples of the affects of the traffic preemption devices. He pointed out that this is an emerging technology of which, currently, only larger areas have implemented. AL STOREY, Alaska State Troopers, Department of Public Safety, testified via teleconference from an offnet site to comment that the Department is in support of restricting the use of these devices to emergency vehicles in order to address the concern that unrestricted use could corrupt an entire traffic management system and result in chaotic and dangerous situations. He noted that while the fire and police department devices have priority status with the signaling system, a situation could arise wherein an individual could trigger a device prior to a police officers approach to a signal and create confusion. Co-Chair Wilken noted that, in addition to these devices being used in Anchorage, the city of Fairbanks has utilized these traffic devices effectively for more than ten years. Senator Dyson asked whether the bill's definition of an emergency vehicle is sufficient as he questioned whether someone such as a supervising officer in a non-official vehicle might require use of the device in an emergency. Mr. Storey explained that there is a very restrictive criterion regarding the use of the device. He allowed that while an extreme "aggravated" situation such as a hostage situation might support expanding the authorized use of the device, he would be surprised were, as a matter of routine business, the restrictive criteria and usage guidelines expanded. Senator Dyson questioned whether the definition of a emergency vehicle should be broadened to include a person such as the volunteer fire department chief, in addition to the current definition that limits use to fire, police, or medical emergency vehicles. Mr. Storey replied that although volunteer firefighters and others who must respond to emergency situations are important, the decision to broaden the definition should be a Committee decision. Senator Bunde asked how the system would function were two emergency vehicles approaching an intersection from different directions. Mr. Storey remarked that fire and police vehicle transmitter devices could be programmed to supercede signals from lower priority devices utilized in transit system buses or maintenance vehicles. He voiced the hope that the priority vehicle devices would also supercede illegal devices. In response to Senator Bunde's question, he stated that were two priority vehicles to approach a common intersection there might be conflict; however, he noted that the emergency vehicle drivers could coordinate their positions via their communication radios and use of professional courtesy. Senator Bunde, noting that he is unfamiliar with these devices, asked whether the ones available on the market emit low priority signals. Furthermore, he questioned the need for this legislation were the high priority emergency devices to supercede low priority devices. Mr. Storey responded that the purpose of this legislation is to offset criminal acts of those who possess these devices and who might use them, for instance, to "corrupt the traffic management system" in order to get to work on time. He noted that there is also the possibility that priority emergency vehicles signals might be interfered with, as he was unsure of the priority configuration of "bootlegged" devices. Mr. Michel informed the Committee that volunteer firefighters utilize a blue light system on their vehicles. Continuing, he noted that while these volunteers are trained and authorized to use these lights, they are not authorized to exceed posted speed limits. He recommended against broadening the scope of the definition to include persons such as volunteers. Mr. Michel further explained that a tier system is incorporated into the traffic preemption device system that would disallow a low priority vehicle such as a snowplow or transit bus from interfering with an emergency vehicle signal. However, he stressed, that without this legislation, it would be unclear as to whether bootlegged devices could interfere with emergency vehicle devices. He clarified that when two high priority vehicles approach a signaled intersection, "it is a first come, first served basis." Senator Dyson stated that he would accept the language in Section 1(a). However, he suggested language in Section 1(b)(2) be altered. Conceptual Amendment #1: This amendment deletes the word "municipality" in Section 1, subsection (b) (2) on page one, line 15, and replaces it with "municipal or city assembly." The amended language would read as follows. (2) a person operating a motor vehicle involved in highway maintenance or public transit that has been authorized by the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities or a municipal or city assembly to possess or use a traffic preemptive device. Senator Dyson moved for the adoption of Amendment #1. He informed that this amendment would provide local citizenry the ability to have a public process through which to weigh in on whether to allow their local transit system to have these devices. Senator Bunde objected to inform that he would be presenting an amendment that would remove the entire public transit language from the legislation. He recalled that Mr. Wilson had testified that the transit system "has no present plans" to implement these devices. Continuing, he noted that he would be open to the idea in the future, were the citizens of Anchorage provided the opportunity to participate in the decision were the transit system to advance this effort. Senator Bunde removed his objection. There being no further objection, Amendment #1 was ADOPTED. Conceptual Amendment #2: This amendment deletes the language "or public transit", and "or a municipal or city assembly" as amended by Amendment #1, in Section 1, subsection (b)(2) on page one, lines 14 and 15. The language would read as follows. (2) a person operating a motor vehicle involved in highway maintenance that has been authorized by the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to possess or use a traffic preemptive device. Senator Bunde moved for the adoption of Amendment #2. Senator Wilken objected. Senator Bunde stated that this amendment would remove the transit system from the legislation due to the fact that there is currently no plan underway to institute these devices in Anchorage's transit system and, therefore, authorization is not currently required. Continuing, he noted that this issue could be readdressed in the future. He declared that he does not agree that these transit devices would not "inconvenience" other motorists. Co-Chair Wilken maintained his objection, as he stated he is comfortable with allowing the transit system to remain in the bill; especially in light of the language added by Amendment #1. Senator Olson commented that, as a physician, it is difficult to discuss emergency vehicles and transit buses in the same conversation. SFC 04 # 83, Side A 10:42 AM A roll call was taken on the motion. IN FAVOR: Senator Olson and Senator Bunde OPPOSED: Senator Hoffman, Senator B. Stevens, Senator Dyson, Co- Chair Green, and Co-Chair Wilken The motion FAILED (2-5) Amendment #2 FAILED to be adopted. Co-Chair Green moved to report the bill, as amended, from Committee with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal notes. Co-Chair Wilken objected in order to request that Members read the analysis included with the new fiscal note provided by the Public Defenders Office of the Department of Administration. Co-Chair Wilken removed his objection. There being no further objection, CS SB 255 (FIN) was REPORTED from Committee with zero fiscal note #1, dated February 9, 2004 and zero fiscal note #2, dated February 6, 2004 from the Department of Public Safety; zero fiscal note #3, dated February 10, 2004 from the Department of Law; and a new indeterminate fiscal note, dated April 6, 2004 from the Department of Administration.