Towed away

COMPANY:Henry's Wrecker Service OPERATION:Light- to heavy-duty towing service in the Baltimore and Washington, DC, areas PROBLEM: The 39-year-old company operates a fleet of 200 trucks that includes heavy-duty Class 8 wreckers, medium-duty conventional and COE flatbeds, and pickup-based light-duty wheel-lift. Four dispatchers handle about 400 calls a day for a service area that includes the metro

COMPANY:
Henry's Wrecker Service

OPERATION:
Light- to heavy-duty towing service in the Baltimore and Washington, DC, areas

PROBLEM:

The 39-year-old company operates a fleet of 200 trucks that includes heavy-duty Class 8 wreckers, medium-duty conventional and COE flatbeds, and pickup-based light-duty wheel-lift. Four dispatchers handle about 400 calls a day for a service area that includes the metro Baltimore and Washington, DC, areas and extends west to Front Royal, VA.

The company has been using a dispatch system from Beacon Software since the 1980s, but until last year dispatches were sent to drivers using push-to-talk radio. And without any automated location technology, truck positions relied on verbal reports from drivers.

“We tried a radio tower based [location system], but we weren't happy with it and stopped using it in 2002,” says Fred Scheler, the towing company's president and CEO. While it had been investigating a number of automated fleet management systems with GPS tracking since 2002, it couldn't find one that fit its primary requirement. “We wanted to be sure the ROI would be worth it,” Scheler says.

SOLUTION:

In 2010, Henry's field-tested a new commercial fleet management system from TomTom, a company better known for its consumer automotive GPS products. Integrated with its dispatch software, TomTom Work included vehicle GPS units and in-cab displays for both navigation and messaging, as well as wireless two-way cellular-based text communications.

Now when a service call comes in, the dispatcher can find the nearest available truck, even if that truck is assigned to another dispatcher's area. “My dispatchers are like air traffic controllers now,” Scheler says. “There are two big-screen displays showing every truck's location, so if a truck from another region drops a car, the dispatcher for that new region can use it to make a nearby call.”

All it takes is a push of a button by the dispatcher. “It shows up on the truck display, and if the driver accepts it, they get the full details,” says Scheler. If a driver isn't familiar with an area, they can request turn-by turn directions. “And if the customer calls, the dispatcher can look on the call map and give them an ETA without even talking to the driver,” he adds.

The benefits have been multiple, with a drop in fuel consumption alone providing a fast ROI, Scheler reports. “The biggest thing has been a 60 to 70% drop in idling time,” he says. “But we've also shortened travel distances between calls because we're sending the closest driver every time. In the past, a driver would return to their base to wait for the next assignment. We're seeing a direct fuel savings of about $200 per truck per month.”

Drivers, who are paid by the call, have seen their earnings rise as they spend less time traveling between assignments, and with trucks accumulating less mileage while doing more, the fleet's maintenance costs have also dropped, according to Scheler.

Another major benefit of the system is automated data capture from each call directly from the in-cab units. “When a driver closes a call ticket and puts the unit back in its cradle, all the information is automatically downloaded to dispatch with everything we need to close the call and issue a bill,” says Scheler. “My dispatch is now my billing system.”

TAGS: Technology
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