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United Road Towing: Staying efficient with 40,000 time-sensitive tows each year

Data Blocks
Data Blocks

Jim Ferguson, Chief Information Officer at United Road Towing, has been using Teletrac Navman GPS tracking for over 10 years. The fleet of 550 operates across seven locations and completes 40,000 tows each year. Here’s what Jim had to say about using fleet management software for operational efficiency at such a complex business.

In a towing business, what are the biggest challenges?

Jim: Most of the towing we do is very time-sensitive because we work with municipalities - police departments, streets & sanitation, highway patrols, state DOTs. We clear streets for major events like parades and marathons, or get a call when there’s an accident or cars need to be moved from a scene. We do this in seven different locations, and each can easily have two or three rotations, which are specific timeframes when we’re on-call. The contracts have strict SLAs (service level agreements) around being on-site in a certain amount of time. 

Because our trucks are constantly on the move and on-call, keeping track of where they are and who can respond fastest to a job is key to meeting deadlines. Consider that Chicago alone has around 690 miles of city streets.

How do you apply GPS fleet tracking to those challenges?

Jim: Each dispatch office has a few different pieces of software they use. In each location, we display a “Teletrac Navman PC” where the fleet tracking dashboard is shown on a big-screen TV. It’s on 24/7. It displays the map view and lets dispatchers quickly look to see where trucks are. It’s a visual aid for more efficient routing and job assignments. Dispatchers know which trucks are already loaded or if they can take another car, so can easily divert drivers if they’re close to an accident and keep an eye on speeding or idling for fuel efficiency.

Even more important is it allows them to communicate with drivers. Through the software, we have a couple different APIs where dispatchers can type a message to the truck and send instructions.

If you think of having two or three dispatchers managing 60-70 trucks all in “high-need” there’s just no way you can do it without the software. I know because if Teletrac Navman is ever down, we go into fire mode in dispatch.

Safety is a priority for your fleet. How do you manage safety?

Jim: Safety is paramount to any transportation or towing company – safety to the vehicle and other cars or trucks on the road. We use the Smith Systems driver training program, and then use Teletrac Navman to reinforce it. We use the speed and driver behavior data Teletrac Navman captures in weekly safety meetings with our drivers, to address dangerous behaviors and make sure our drivers don’t start breaking the good habits they learned from the training. Teletrac Navman lets us build on that program and makes sure no one gets lax. We run the logs and remind drivers if they’re speeding too often, and we’ll send them back to training if the data shows continued issues – or take them out of a truck if it’s far too risky to have them on the road.

What’s one of the more surprising ways you’ve used Teletrac Navman Fleet Director?

Jim: We actually used Teletrac Navman to create our own little company within a company for disaster recovery. Whenever there’s a disaster in the country, like flooding or a hurricane, we’re able to send about 40 trucks to the site. For example, we don’t normally operate in Houston, but sent trucks there during the flooding. The GPS tracking makes it possible to dispatch trucks to wherever they’re needed on a daily basis. The technology is absolutely key. We’ve seen disaster areas where there might be 20,000 calls in the cue from an insurance company. That effectively means 20k people have called up and say “I need my truck, boat, motorcycle moved because it’s being damaged. We couldn’t possibly respond to that without the GPS tracking data. It lets us help an an area clean up quickly and recover, and let’s us jump on new revenue opportunities. 

We also use Teletrac Navman to manage our broker business. We have 95 trucks, and you can’t tow for Chicago with just 95 trucks. We basically created a broker company to be able to fulfill the work, and we require them to have Teletrac Navman installed so we can monitor them when working on our contract.

What advice do you have for peers?

Jim: Integrate your telematics technology with other systems. We use a Microsoft SQL database to tie the Teletrac Navman data to our dispatching software. To assign a job in the dispatch system, dispatchers type in the details and hit send. An API runs every 20 seconds and job assignments are automatically picked up, sent to the Teletrac Navman system and show up on the screen of the Teletrac Navman or Garmin tablets inside the trucks. Drivers have to pull over, but can just look at the screen for all the information and directions. It might say something like, “we have a red F150 at XX location. Here’s the customer’s name, phone number and exact location.” Integration and tying Teletrac Navman into whatever dispatch software you use is key.

To learn more about Teletrac Navman fleet tracking solutions, please visit: Fleet and Asset Management 

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