While COVID is certainly on our minds now for the past 35 years a small group of highly trained, Nationally Certified Professionals have been teaching motorcyclists of all levels of skills and experience how to identify & mitigate risks, protect themselves and their passengers and how to improve their skills via Instruction and coaching.
This PennDOT service is provided, “free of charge” to all PA residents via a self-funded program formed by Law in 1984 and started in 1985 which uses a small portion of motorcycle permits and license fees to fund the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Program, or PAMSP for short.
The Program spans over 70 sites, teaches 15-23K students a year, and runs from March to October (sometimes even December…) annually via the efforts of a small office staff and, currently, ~220 part time Instructors. The Program currently teaches Introductory (ITR), Beginner (BRC), Intermediate (IRC), Advanced (ARC) and 3 Wheel (3WRC) Riding Clinics.
In addition to teaching students in the classroom and on the riding range Instructors are also licensing agents of the Commonwealth of PA, able to license motorcyclists upon the successful completion of the BRC, IRC and or 3WRC Clinics. PAMSP is also the sole organization which all students under 18yrs of age, by law (Act 84, 2012), must first attend, with parental verification, and later, following a 6 month eligibility period, return to re-test in order to receive their motorcycle license.
After years of continuity over the last decade Program Administration has changed (3) times. This has destabilized the program leading to massive Instructor attrition which degraded the capacity of the program to run at anything approaching its capacity but in 2018 the Program had an opportunity to change the trajectory of the program in a decline since 2013.
In 2012 PAMSP trained nearly 23,921 students, over 20% of those females, and taught nearly 2,500 classes. This was an average maintained for nearly 10 years prior. The number of Instructors in 2008 was 531, a number that would remain steady for years, essential to ensuring classes were able to be staffed and made available to students.
Recruiting and training an Instructor can easily take a year or more. Recruitment, applications, interviews, riding tests, BRC Instructor training, shadowing, internships, quality assurance checks, mandatory professional development workshops as well as content knowledge and on range proficiency take a long time to develop. Training attrition was high, but locating and developing good Instructors is critical to Instructor & Student safety, the foundation of a safe learning environment.
Instructors who worked for the Program considered it to be the best in the Nation. many did not realize that very soon hard times would fall on the PAMSP.
Every 5 years the Administration of the program is put out to bid via an RFP process (request for proposal) to which vendors can respond and run the program. The RFP is administered by PennDOT’s Bureau of Office Services and would seek to make changes to the PAMSP.
In 2013, a long-standing Administration company, who was also a curriculum provider, was replaced with a new vendor.
Initial transition issues would lead to some Instructor attrition. The existing curriculum was retained and continued to be taught which eased the entry for Instructors transitioning to the new Administration company but over time much of the old structure was removed, specific roles were cancelled – but the work they used to do became added to the Instructor daily tasks.
Standards, once high and well documented, were slowly eroded. Over time key staff departed and the Program, a shell of its former self, was buoyed only by those dedicated Instructors who sought to keep training students – 21,196 of them – the most important element of the Program.
Over this time the Program was significantly degraded, Instructor loses mounted, an average of 383 Instructors were on staff between 2012-2015, morale reached a new low and after 5 years the next RFP (RFP NUMBER 3516R09, 86 pages, all RFP files here) was released in 2017.
After only a few responses to the contract RFP, which included many punitive controls, a new Program Administrator was selected and started preparing for 2018, including bringing new curricula to Pennsylvania.
The curricula were going to provide an interesting change to PA Motorcycle instruction with students spending more time riding, Instructors challenged to improve their own presentation and riding skills and knowledge.
While a new change in course materials was coming regardless of the Administrative provider at the end of 2017 many remaining Instructors were cautiously optimistic that things were going to improve.
At the time of the new contract in 2018 Instructor losses were at an all time high. 6 years of poorly managed transitions, failed operations, broken promises, etc. had decimated the Instructor Corps. By the start of 2018, many experienced Instructors did not return to the Program.
2018 would start with 0 Instructors.
Prior Instructors were contacted, arrangements made to train those who wanted to continue with the PAMSP. Initially it was slow going but those dedicated to PAMSP returned, slowly, over time, and helped to bring up the ranks.
Not only were additional Instructors needed but all of those returning would need to be trained in a brand-new curriculum, new Trainers trained, ranges repainted, new Instructors located, new Administrative staff installed, nearly 1700 motorcycles repaired and moved to sites 14 at a time, etc. It was a daunting task with little time from the vendor selection to the start of the season, but people were excited to start bringing PAMSP back to its former glory.
During 2018 the rebuilding of the program was continuing including training sessions occurring across the Commonwealth. During this time a new form of Professional Development Workshop (PDW) was introduced where Instructors would hone their craft by riding (video here) and receive feedback. This was a first for the Program and would set a new standard for Instructor engagement.
A new Training staff was being built, new Site Coordinators, those Instructors responsible for the day to day operations of the training sites, were selected and brought online across the Commonwealth to help schedule Instructors for classes so that they could be opened up for public registration.
By the end of the year the program would have 192 Instructors – 64 ITR, 26 3WRC, 25 IRC & 19 ARC Certified – and had taught 8,686 students at 67 sites.
2019 would begin with increasing Instructor ranks able to teach the Beginner Riding Clinic, earlier class openings at more sites, additional Instructors and improved processes. Instructor recruitment efforts were ramped up with 25 recruitment events fueling 29 Instructor training events.
BRP (Bombardier) had started to provide their popular “Spyder” 3-wheelers across PA in 2018, they would bring the lower cost “Ryker” models to the PAMSP and with it more 3-wheel courses went online. Three-wheel courses are highly popular and were the vehicle by which multiple PennDOT licensing personnel would get their motorcycle licenses.
A “Track Day Advanced Riding Clinic” was opened at Pitt Race – in a single day 72 students on their own bike would attend a Track Day as part of the PAMSP. It would not be the last Track Day ARC – all of which were highly attended, always sold out. Later that year another PDW would be held, again Instructors would receive direct coaching by ARC Instructors – focus on them at the range for once – and attend classroom sessions to provide additional information to the Instructors in the field.
PAMSP holds clinics across Pennsylvania but in covering nearly every county there are still some gaps due to staffing, teaching locations, numbers of students. In order to address this need the PAMSP Administration approached PennDOT with the idea of building mobile units, staffed by Instructors who would drive a self-contained classroom/garage to underserved counties, to provide PAMSP services to all Pennsylvanians. The idea was the start of the Mobile Training Units which were announced to arrive sometime in 2020.
PAMSP would also attend community outreach events contributing to nearly 100 events reaching out to over 45,000 attendees. Instructor recruitment events would continue, new Instructors would be added to the training rolls in 2019 and 2020.
The Beginner Riding Clinic curriculum was updated and started to be previewed to the Field via the 2019 PDW with widespread release due in 2020.
By the start of 2019 there were 192 Instructors teaching at 67 sites, by the end of 2019 the program would have 267 Certified Instructors at 72 sites – 84 IRT, 46 3WRC, 37 IRC & 23 ARC Certified – who taught 13,662 students – a %57.29 increase in students taught in 2019 vs 2018.
PAMSP was on the rise, 2020 was planned to be the best year in nearly a decade.
2020 would start the year with nearly 250 Instructors trained in the Beginner Riding Clinic (BRC) curriculum – still not enough Instructors needed to run the program at full capacity – but nearly 30 more Instructor candidates were already in training at the start of 2020.
Additional Instructors had also trained in Intermediate (IRC) and Advanced Riding Clinics (ARC) at the end of 2019 which meant that additional clinics could open for experienced riders. The full curriculum was being offered across the Commonwealth and the work to prepare for 2020 would begin earlier than ever.
Site Coordinators, those Instructors responsible for planning the site level schedule, staffing all the classes at their sites, and ensuring the sites were adequately supplied were in place by the end of 2019. Scheduling starting in October of 2019 in preparation for 2020 clinics across all sites. Staffing a clinic is required before it can be opened to the public and with Instructors scheduled early in 2020 classes opened only to sell out quickly starting in March.
Innovation would not stop. A new program, utilizing “Skid Bikes”, purchased by PennDOT and unused for years, was being developed for Intermediate Riders. (4) “Track Day ARC” were already scheduled for Pitt Race in anticipation of a huge event for PAMSP students in 2020, fully staffed by ARC Instructors looking forward to assist Pennsylvania riders at a truly innovative event. PDW planning was already underway. The Mobile Training Unit work continued.
A new BRC classroom teaching package was anticipated which would add audio and video to the slide deck to increase student engagement and convey updated materials in a streamlined fashion.
In one dual range site alone 2,000 student training seats were on the schedule for 2020 teaching every clinic offered in Pennsylvania in a single site. Other area sites were similarly positioned to meet the demand for Motorcycle training head on, while recruitment and training of new Instructors was ongoing.
The first training classes of the season started with Beginner Riding Clinics planned to be open in early March 2020.
The beginning of the end
The first classes of 2020 were planned to start around the second week of March.
Early in March COVID19 started to reach the States and at that time (3/13/2020) guidance was given to PAMSP field staff to wipe down surfaces, ensure social distancing, etc. PAMSP, working with PennDOT, delivered this guidance to the field and sites were prepared with the requisite supplies to continue operations, if facilities and counties/municipalities were open.
Out of an abundance of caution classes were cancelled at most sites in keeping with local closures, and eventually all operations ceased at PAMSP at sites across the Commonwealth starting on 3/13-3/14. This occurred within days, not weeks. Classes were closed by the 13-15th, the entire Program was shutdown on March 19th in keeping with an order from Governor Tom Wolf. The message to the PAMSP Staff & Instructors from the main office was that PAMSP Operations were “postponed until further notice”.
At this time, most Instructors believed the Program would resume operations at some point in 2020, pending the outcome of the Global Pandemic. Rolling class cancellations would continue, students registered would be accommodated later, if possible.
On April 13th, 2020, a Federal WARN Act Notice letter was sent out from the PAMSP Administrator that as of March 19th, 2020 William Gipe, PennDOT, had temporarily suspended the PAMSP contract, requiring all staff to vacate their headquarters location in Harrisburg.
This was without advanced warning and open ended, no date given as to when operations could resume. Prior to this all Instructors were being informed that Operations, not the Contract, was suspended. Behind the scenes the Administration Company and PennDOT were still talking. Instructors were still hopeful that classes, at some point safely, would resume, if at all possible, in 2020.
At this time, April 13th, 2020 and as of March 19th, 2020, ALL PAMSP Instructors and Staff were in layoff status.
On April 18th rumors were spreading that the PAMSP Contract had been terminated.
On April 20th messages were making their way across Facebook and other social media.
On 4:15PM EST April 20th, 2020 it was confirmed by the Program Administrators that as of April 18th, 2020 the PAMSP contract had been “cancelled for convenience” – summarily terminating all Staff & Instructors and ending operations. The contract was cancelled by William Gipe of PennDOT, sole point of contact for PennDOT contracts.
On April 20th a message was sent from PennDOT to the PAMSP Instructor Corps (and quickly posted to the Internet) informing all that training would not resume for 2020, that planning for the future of the program was in progress and to return any PAMSP assets to the office.
In April 2020, the PAMSP Program effectively ended.
It may be shocking to many that in a Commonwealth one person alone retains the control to end a State mandated program serving tens of thousands of students, legally mandated for some of them, terminating all Staff & contracts across 72 sites and disenfranchising the Motorcycling community across Pennsylvania.
Instead of continuing its dialogue with the Program Administrator, which had been ongoing until the Contract was terminated, PennDOT simply cancelled the contract, irrevocably ending all discourse, closing off all avenues to reconcile the situation.
According to the original RFP, page 82, “The Commonwealth reserves the right to make changes at any time during the term of the Contract or any renewals or extensions thereof…” which gave the Commonwealth a lot of flexibility in resolving concerns, if any had arisen.
What may have been convenient for PennDOT will now become unbelievably complicated – Instructors again disenfranchised some never to return. Office staff fired, now looking for new jobs outside of the program. Key program staff leaving the program entirely.
The small but hard-working fleet maintenance staff fired, motorcycles sitting in sheds & warehouse slowing becoming inoperable as batteries die, carburetors become fouled. Motorcycles at +70 sites which need to be transported from the sites to the central warehouse for storage remain at closed sites.
Range, porta-potty and classroom contracts will all need to be cancelled, suspended or continue to be paid. Essential range maintenance & repainting will not be completed.
All of this to be completed without administrative, maintenance or site staff in 2020.
A new contract will need to be constructed and sent to bid with an open question – who would bid on this Contract, in this environment?
The current and curriculum is up in the air.
No orderly transition from the current Administration company to the next can be provided, a “cold start” will be required all costing the program an unknown amount of money.
Act 84 students will be unable to take classes mandated by law.
Fees to fund PAMSP will still be collected from licenses and permits, but will fund no training in 2020 as the law intended.
Worst of all Students needing Instruction will ride without it, increasing injuries and fatalities.
PAMSP is now at an impasse.
“Show me the Money”
What many people may not realize is that while PAMSP is funded by PA Motorcyclists from a portion of permit and license fees the Program Administrators are (re)funded only after the fact, in effect creating a situation where only heavily capitalized Companies, generally small businesses themselves, can afford to fund ongoing operations, then submit their expenses and wait for reimbursement from the Commonwealth.
These costs are not insignificant. The purchase of program motorcycles? Initially must be purchased by the Administration company, generally via the use of loans, in order to bring new training units into the Program. The Administration companies are reimbursed only after the expenditure is made, at which point they’ve capitalized the purchase, for the Program, on their own paper.
For example a new Suzuki TU250X retails for $4,649. To purchase enough of these motorcycles to supply a typical site would cost over $65,000. PAMSP has over 1,200 motorcycles in its fleet. Total cost if each was only $4,000? $4,800,000. Only $2000? $2,400,000. This does not include transport (site to site), maintenance, etc.
After the motorcycles are purchased they must be maintained. PennDOT only reimburses for maintenance labor, transportation & parts but doesn’t pay for the central warehouse used to store the motorcycles, human resources administration, etc. These facilities and overhead costs are paid by the Administration company – and are not reimbursed by PennDOT. “Overhead” costs are actually excluded from reimbursement via the PAMSP contract. The PAMSP staff who maintain the motorcycles don’t just work out of a central garage but also travel to all sites dropping off & picking up motorcycles, working on them on site, across the Commonwealth.
The Administration companies are not paid for ongoing administration work separately from Motorcycle training classes as they are in Illinois, the only other state with “free” motorcycle training. The Administration companies are only paid after students are trained, classes are completed, field paperwork is sent from the sites and processed by the PAMSP office, then brought to PennDOT.
For example a class can span 2 weeks, paperwork can take 5 or more days to reach PAMSP Harrisburg, take time to process in the PAMSP office before it ever reaches PennDOT to be further processed and later reimbursed, which could be several months after the services were rendered.
There are a number of Administrative burdens within the contract which prevent companies from bidding on the contracts, prevent companies from being successful and ultimately prevent students from receiving the training they so desperately need.
The cost of training a student could be established as a unit cost, Admin fees could be broken out from training costs and paid on a monthly basis, large purchases could be capitalized via the Commonwealth. These work for successful businesses and would alleviate the pressure on Administrators to meet contract compliance metrics while chasing reimbursements from a well funded Program.
The Program Administrators should be focusing on Administrative tasks, Schedule, Sites, Instructors, Students – and not chasing reimbursements for the basics, or floating financing for PAMSP specific reimbursable capital purchases.
Moving forward the Commonwealth must repair the structural issues surrounding the administration of the PAMSP Program and its Administration contract.
Termination of the contract should be determined by committee, terms of the contracts should be reviewed for efficacy and reasonableness, compliance costs & labor impact imposed by PennDOT should be considered, mediation should be included to attempt to resolve any disputes between supplier and the Commonwealth.
One person should not have the power to terminate a Program that serves so many so uniquely, so broadly.
The simplest path would be to reinstate the contract, but that is an unlikely scenario.
Moving forward PAMSP needs to retain the existing curricula to ensure that Certified Instructors can return to teach again, so that ranges don’t need to be reconfigured, so what standards and practices exist today in the field can be leveraged to restart the program in 2021.
Moving forward motorcyclists should reach out to their legislators, ask them to review what happened to the PAMSP in 2020, what has happened before to lesser degrees in 2013 and 2017.
Ask them to reinstate the contract. Ask them to review the contract, oversight of the program, mandates & requests made to the Program Administrators.
Ask them to review the punitive aspects of the contract, consider if they are fair and reasonable.
Ask them to look at the financial burdens placed on Administration companies, how these can be revised to develop a partnership, not a hardship.
Ask them to look at how remuneration is made to Administration companies for classes taught, look to implement a unit cost per student model in lieu of the current system.
Ask them to review the stewardship of this program within the Commonwealth. Perhaps another organization, such as the Pennsylvania State Police, would provide supportive oversight and engagement with contractors, the motorcycling community.
Ask them how Act 84 will be complied with in 2020. Until this is resolved no one under 18 seeking a class M license can get one.
Ask them how a now defunct Program can still collect permit and license fees to fund it, if it is no longer capable of operating in any capacity, lacks a contract & licensed curriculum to run.
Ask them how the program will be restarted in 2021, at what cost in personnel, damaged motorcycles, lost leases, etc.
Ask them if canceling the contract is worth the injuries, the lives lost due to the decision of one person without any oversight, check or balance.
In 2020 PAMSP was targeting training of 17,000 students, in 2021 even more.
In 2020 less than 70 students completed PAMSP training.
In 2020 PAMSP is set to train 0 additional students.
In 2021 PAMSP is currently prepared – or able – to train 0 students.
As Pennsylvania motorcyclists funding a program to assist others looking to join or continue safely in our community we can, and must, do better.
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