CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One of the first proposals the new Legislature may take up in the New Year would remove a law requirement that the state Division of Highways keep the Courtesy Patrol on the Mountain State’s roads.
Instead, discretion when it comes to the roadside assistance program would fall to the governor and transportation secretary, according to a presentation state lawmakers heard during interim meetings earlier this week at the State Capitol.
Currently, the DOH has a $3.4 million Courtesy Patrol contract with the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia, a nonprofit organization based in Beckley, that runs through May 31, 2016.
“It’s really premature. We’re still in our current contract year. Of course, we have the upcoming legislative session, a new administration coming in, so I’m sure those talks will continue,” Jennifer Douglas, chief operating officer for the Citizens Conservation Corps, said when asked about the possibility of a contract cancellation.
“We know times are tough here in West Virginia, so all we can do is continue to help people on the highways and create jobs and keep moving forward.”
The Courtesy Patrol operates from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily. Workers assist stranded drivers, remove hazards from roads, give gas or directions, change flat tires and provide other help to motorists.
Up until 2015 when it was shifted to the DOH, the Courtesy Patrol had been funded through the state Division of Tourism.
Most recently, there’s been a push to take operations for the program into the DOH. In September, though, state Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox said a review determined there was no savings to be found with such a transfer.
Douglas agreed. “We’ve been the lowest bidder for the contract — always — and also it’s been determined that, to run that program in-house, it would not save the DOT (Department of Transportation) or the state any money,” she said.
“We’re the most cost-efficient way to operate the program.”
The Courtesy Patrol is one of 12 programs the Citizens Conservation Corps oversees.
Critics have questioned the need for the Courtesy Patrol since so many private roadside assistance programs are available now and cell phone coverage is much more extensive than when the Courtesy Patrol relaunched in 1998.
“Cell phone coverage enables a motorist to reach us more quickly,” Douglas said. “But there are still a lot of dead spots and things that are unpredictable in a rural state like West Virginia that makes the Courtesy Patrol very valuable.”
The Citizens Conservation Corps has also been criticized for the large salaries, six figures in some cases, paid to executive staff.
“We stand on our record. We continue to operate on a high level,” Douglas told MetroNews.
The Courtesy Patrol employs former TANF recipients along with people who may have been previously unemployed. Drivers, who are trained in first aid, safety and CPR, cover more than 820 miles on 25 routes along West Virginia’s four-lane highways.
The number for the Courtesy Patrol is 1-888-359-3683. For emergencies, *SP or 911 are the recommended contact numbers.
The 2017 Regular Legislative Session opens briefly on Jan. 11 before resuming in earnest on Feb. 8.