GREENSTEIN/DeANGELO TURN ON WARNING LIGHTS OVER PRIVATIZING EMERGENCY SERVICE PATROL ON STATE HIGHWAYS

In a Letter to DOT Commissioner Simpson, Legislators Cite Safety Concerns, Financial Hardship Dismantling Safety Program will Have on New Jersey Motorists

In a letter to New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner James Simpson, Assemblywoman Linda R. Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) and Assemblyman Wayne P. DeAngelo (D-Hamilton) today expressed serious concerns with a proposal that would do away with the Emergency Service Patrol (ESP) that aids motorists on state highways.

The concept is one of 40 recommendations presented by the New Jersey Privatization Task Force and calls for the dismantling of the ESP program. Last year, 114,000 motorists were assisted by the emergency service patrol for reasons ranging from involvement in a motor vehicle accident to inability to navigate the roadways in inclement weather to operational problems with their vehicle.

“A stranded motorist does not necessarily have the financial means to participate in or call a personal, private roadside service; but that reality is not acknowledged in reports we have read regarding privatizing this service. If a driver does not have access to a private roadside service, they may be forced to pay exorbitant fees for one-time emergency service or left with no options for assistance at all,” wrote Greenstein and DeAngelo.

The pair urged DOT to devise a more measured approach to modernizing the program as a means of saving money while still maintaining some functionality of the program for motorists who need it.

“If the emergency service patrol is dismantled, then drivers who cannot afford a private sector roadside service may simply be left at the side of the state’s busiest highways,” added the lawmakers.

The full text of the letter to Commissioner Simpson is included below:

July 26, 2010

Dear Commissioner Simpson:

We are writing to express our reservations with a recommendation put forth by the New Jersey Privatization Task Force and in today’s news reports regarding the privatization of the Emergency Service Patrol (ESP). We understand the importance of maximizing tax dollars given the pressures of the state budget; however, we are concerned by the potential safety issues and financial ramifications that privatizing this program may have on New Jersey families.

As you are aware, the program is funded by federal dollars allocated by the Federal Highway Administration. Diverting federal money from this motorist safety service would mean taking away a service that aided 114,000 individuals last year alone. A stranded motorist does not necessarily have the financial means to participate in or call a personal, private roadside service; but that reality is not acknowledged in reports we have read regarding privatizing this service. If a driver does not have access to a private roadside service, they may be forced to pay exorbitant fees for one-time emergency services or left with no options for assistance at all.

The Task Force report recommendation regarding ESP is one singular line stating: “DOT should dismantle this program immediately and cease competing with private sector roadside assistance entities.” We believe that the simplicity of this statement fails to acknowledge the financial hardship that paying for a membership driven program will have on some families.

Furthermore, we are concerned by the tone of your remarks in today’s Bergen Record story in which you were quoted as saying (in reference to ending roadside assistance for motorists), “If somebody runs out of gas, well too bad.” We believe the comment also mistakenly simplifies the ESP program and does not take into account the various reasons that a motorist may be sitting in a disabled vehicle along our extraordinarily busy highways.

This program does not simply help motorists who run out of gas. Drivers involved in moving accidents, stranded because of inclement weather, or faced with serious motor vehicle problems are often first aided by the Emergency Service Patrol before the State Police can arrive. If the emergency service patrol is dismantled, then drivers who cannot afford a private sector roadside service may simply be left at the side of the state’s busiest highways.

We believe that the Department of Transportation should take a much more serious and measured approach to modernizing the Emergency Service Patrol. Options such as maintaining a scaled back version of the ESP program and changing the operational hours or service to ones that are more appropriate to motorist needs should be explored as opposed to a wholesale destruction of the program. We urge you to explore a more measured approach to emergency roadside assistance that finds a middle ground between being cost-effective and providing a needed safety service for motorists.

Thank you in advance for your consideration regarding our concerns on this issue. We look forward to your response at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Assemblywoman Linda R. Greenstein

Assemblyman Wayne P. DeAngelo

14th Legislative District