How do they do that? Assist stranded motorists on L.A. County freeways?

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How (and why) does Metro assist stranded motorists on L.A. County freeways?

Whether it’s a flat tire, an empty gas tank or an overheated radiator, chances are that at one point or another most of us will need help on the freeway. All we have to do is dial #399 on our cells or smart phones and the Metro Freeway Service Patrol will arrive to help us resolve our problem.

Those without cell phones can use a freeway call box by dialing the # sign. Operators are on duty to answer calls in English and Spanish and there’s translation into other languages possible. The service also is equipped to serve the deaf and hearing and speech impaired. And it’s free.

The Freeway Service Patrol is constantly cruising. During peak commuting hours, 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., 152 roaming tow and service trucks crisscross L.A. freeways, looking for disabled cars and waiting for calls. Drivers patrol a designated section of freeway called a “beat” and often come upon a disabled vehicle before the motorist can call for assistance. At midday and on weekends, service is reduced to 41 trucks. But the mission is the same: to assist stranded motorists and keep the freeways safe and flowing. A car stuck in traffic for 5 minutes can quickly cause a 20-minute or more backup during rush hour, just when we most need mobility.

Service Patrol trucks assist more than 25,000 vehicles a month for all manner of problems. The most common is changing a flat tire but they also jump start dead batteries, refill radiators, repair leaking hoses and provide enough gas to get stranded motorists off the freeway. They also help motorists contact their personal auto clubs and help remove road hazards (think ladders and couches) from the freeways. They will not, however, tow vehicles home or to a personal mechanic because the Service Patrol trucks need to quickly return to the freeway to help out other stranded motorists.

The Metro Freeway Service Patrol also operates the Big Rig Service Patrol on the 710 and 91 freeways — thoroughfares that are particularly filled with trucks. This service is specifically designed to help out heavy duty vehicles like semi trucks that cannot be assisted by a normal size tow truck.

What does freeway rescue have to do with trains and buses?

Metro is the transportation planner and coordinator, designer, builder and operator — in charge of promoting mobility in L.A. County. The FSP tow trucks reduce traffic congestion by getting disabled cars running again or by quickly removing them from freeway lanes. This reduces chances of further incidents caused by onlookers and impatient drivers. FSP also helps save fuel and reduce air polluting emissions by reducing stop-and-go traffic. The ultimate benefit is that motorists are kept safe and freeway efficiency is maximized. The FSP program is funded by a combination of state and local Proposition C funds. Prop C passed in 1990 to fund transportation improvements and help reduce traffic congestion.

So program #399 into your phone and next time you have a problem on the freeway, give them a call. But remember that #399 does not replace 911. Use 911 if you need a medical, fire department or law enforcement response.

6 replies

  1. Metro spends a lot of its time on highway planning, but somehow the Source only focuses on the transit side. I look forward to more articles exploring the millions of dollars that go into highways and auto related programs from Metro.

  2. Nothing is free in this world. This service is paid for courtesy of your tax dollars.

    Put it another way, the annual cost to taxpayers that is allocated to Metro’s budget to provide this service, inclusive of labor costs, gasoline and maintenance costs of those Metro freeway service vehicles, etc. could’ve been used to do other things like hiring more police officers, cleaning the stations, fixing the problems or grade separating the most dangerous portions of the Blue Line.

    What is the true annual cost to taxpayers of having this service within Metro’s annual budget? As opposed to paying an annual fee of $49 for a AAA membership?

  3. I suppose they consider it a public good to get stranded cars off the freeway as soon as possible. I don’t know why they give out a gallon of gas, though. They should tow them off the freeway and leave it at that.

  4. Does LA Metro publish the statistics as to what services are provided, when and where?

    For example, how does the number of cars running out of gas match up to the cost of gas per gallon on the day?