How Drivers Are Using Mobile Apps to Make Life on the Road Easier

truck drivers and technology

By: Stephen Bennett, Transport Topics

Today’s professional truck drivers are using mobile apps to help manage many facets of work and life on the road — everything from finding and booking loads to communicating with customers and brokers, planning routes that include stops with open parking and places to eat, and processing documents so they can receive timely payment.

Whether the apps run on drivers’ smartphones, electronic logging devices or GPS navigation systems, their growing use is enhancing visibility into freight movements for drivers, fleet managers, shippers and freight brokers, enabling them to manage loads more efficiently and do a better job of keeping each other informed, carriers and technology vendors said. “It makes finding loads and servicing the customers [and] our brokers a lot easier,” said Shain Ferriss, president of Greenmiles Inc., a refrigerated carrier based in Springfield, Mo. The company, which operates 23 power units and 26 refrigerated trailers, uses a couple of apps — including, for its drivers, an app called Trucker Tools. When a freight broker subscribes to a specific service or app that provides tracking and updates, “it takes a lot of weight off the drivers’ and carrier’s shoulders,” Ferriss said. “And the quality of information becomes a lot better,” he added, noting that the transparency provided by such apps helps prevent false information from being shared over the phone or via email. “When the broker or their customer can actually see geographical tracking through an app, they feel a lot more comfortable, and they’re happier with the carrier that’s using it,” Ferriss said.

Multipurpose apps are favored by drivers who don’t want to have to call up a different app for each new task, vendors and drivers said. Fleets also are eager to avoid the “app overload” problem. “They don’t want their drivers using five to 12 apps to do one job,” said Wes Pollock, vice president of sales and strategic partnerships at Eleos Technologies, which provides a mobile platform that allows trucking companies to create their own custom applications. Users and vendors said some apps have expanded rapidly in recent years, with greater versatility and added services including factoring and purchasing of insurance.

Steven Lopez, vice president of business development for Trucker Path, said the company launched its app in 2013 as a way for truck drivers to communicate with each ­other about the latest information on parking availability. Navigation is its main function today, Lopez said. The vendor introduced a load board in 2020, he added. Deon Melvin, who has been a profes­sional driver for about 12 years, said he has used Trucker Path to learn about parking availability and peak times. “Now you can use it for truck routes,” he added. “If my GPS loses the signal, I can pull it up on my phone and use [the app] to get me where I need to be.” Melvin, based in Dunn, N.C., said he was contracted with P&S Transportation, working out of its terminal in Emporia, Va. Truck-specific parking has become an increasingly important industry issue, said Kendra Ensor, vice president of marketing at Rand McNally. Drivers using the company’s truck navigation devices can filter points of interest and create routes to truck parking at travel centers, rest areas, service areas and Walmart and Sam’s Club store locations that accommodate overnight parking, she said. “I stop at Walmart about once every two weeks, sometimes once a week if I forgot something,” said Larry Cothran, a driver based in Cartersville, Ga., who uses the Trucker Path app. “Knowing if that Walmart has truck parking or not — that’s a big deal,” Cothran said. “Some of them have overnight parking. Not all of them.” It also provides a satellite view so he can see which way to enter and exit the parking lot.

Many drivers and fleets are utilizing a range of consumer and commercial-grade mobile devices. Pollock of Eleos Technologies cited “a strong preference” among fleets for Android tablets in their trucks. “However, we’re seeing an increasing number of drivers carrying iPhones,” he said. Drivers can download their company’s app from the App Store and use the same app that is displayed on the tablet in the truck, “which gives the driver a tremendous amount of freedom,” Pollock said.

Keeping point-of-interest data current is crucial, vendors said. “If a driver goes 3 miles out of his way to a POI and it’s closed, he’s going to be really unhappy,” said Prasad Gollapalli, founder and CEO of Trucker Tools. Updating a truck stop guide in the app is a constant project, he said, and last year the vendor opened a page dedicated to pandemic-­related information. As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has prompted changes in operating hours and protocols at many locations, that in turn has required updating an app’s information on services and amenities. Vendors said that truckers play a key role in that process by submitting details based on their latest visits to truck stops and rest areas. After the pandemic struck, certain rest areas or amenities within rest areas started closing down, “and even at warehouses and facilities, suddenly amenities were closed to drivers who were delivering or picking up,” said Rishi ­Mehra, Trimble Maps’ director of operations and strategy. In such times, “aggregation of information becomes much more important,” Mehra said. Trimble Maps collected up­dated data in its geographic information system via Twitter and RSS feeds and through partnerships with truck stop operators and state agencies that operate rest areas. That information was incorporated into its MileOn trip planning application. Trimble Maps also introduced a free app providing a map with amenities color-coded to indicate whether they were fully or partially operational or closed, Mehri said. A couple of Trimble partners embedded the app in their transportation management systems, he said. Trimble also took steps to keep its information up to date. “The information can only be as accurate as the sync cycle,” Mehri said. The vendor provided a feedback mechanism, “which we acted on during business hours within the hour and outside business hours at a three-to-four-hour cycle.”

Crowdsourcing helps some vendors keep their apps current. “We rely on our 1 million monthly active users — truck drivers,” said Lopez of Trucker Path. “They submit information.” The vendor calls business owners to ver­ify submitted information and also has working arrangements with truck stop operators to stay up to date, Lopez said. Rand McNally links its onboard points of interest with internet listings and crowdsourced overviews, Ensor said. “We have noticed in some cases, however, there is a lag in information about closings and revised hours of operation on internet listings,” she said. “So, we also provide an onboard phone number so drivers may double check, if in doubt.”

Ensor said trucking firms have had success with recruitment and retention by offering tools that benefit drivers and fleets. An app that enables drivers to route to travel centers with preferred fuel rates and rewards programs is one example she cited. “Food choices, shopping and parking [are] already at a premium for us. We can’t just fire her up and head into town,” said Christopher Smith, a driver and recruiter with JM Bozeman Enterprises. “Knowing where to go and getting there quickly and safely” is critical, he said.

Smith, a Rand McNally user, stressed the importance of a platform’s reliability, noting that he had owned several makes of GPS before the one he now uses. “They would freeze up in the middle of Dallas or Chicago and I would constantly be restarting,” he said. “Or, going down the road and they just crash all together.” Tamara Brock, an independent contractor based in St. Louis, estimated that when she started using Trucker Tools three years ago, between six and eight brokers were active on the platform. Today there are more than 300 brokers on the platform, according to the company.

Brock said she appreciated receiving rate confirmations on her smartphone, as well as being able to send updates, which she said reduced calls from brokers. “I like that it will find you another load [for] picking up when you deliver and you don’t need to go outside [the] app,” Brock said. Uploading a signed bill of lading and submitting it allows her to be paid more quickly, she added. In years past, truckers were often seen as slow to adopt technology, but that perception is changing, Trucker Tools’ Gollapalli said. “That is no longer true,” he said. “It’s amazing how much understanding our truckers have about smartphones and smartphone apps. That’s good. It’s good for our industry as a whole.”

Bennett, S. (2021). How drivers are using mobile apps to make life on the road easier. Transport Topics.


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