Load by phone: An automated future for online load selection?

| April 17, 2013
New Freightopolis automated freight booking engine
A brand-new service based in Canada but covering U.S. markets as well is Freightopolis, which is selling itself as “eliminating the broker” from the carrier-shipper transaction with an online-database-based solution to booking that at lease sounds like the automated future Charlie Myers describes at left. The service, available and free to carriers with at least five trucks, charges shippers a transaction fee for each booked load.The company’s online software “consolidates online freight information entered by large and small TL and LTL freight carriers across Canadian and U.S. transportation markets,” the company says. Carriers enter their prices on certain lanes, updating their availability when applicable, and shippers react to that data in real time to book transport services with the push of a button. Jack Pollak, the founder and owner of Freightopolis, fathered the idea in 2010, and after more than two years of development, it was launched in the first quarter of this year. Watch a demo vid here.

Charlie Myers, uShip.com freight general manager, forecasts a shift in load selection that’s much like when online load boards became the default venue for spot market freight. “It took a while for carriers to really grasp the concept,” Myers says of the prior shift. “Then it went viral, and the online boards took over the spot market freight space.”

If Myers is right, the online marketplace model – aided by growing mobile Internet capability and usage – is where load selection is heading. When operators view a load board today, nine times out of 10 “they’re never sure if that load is a good load or not,” so they’re checking broker credit scores and making phone calls, he says.

For such a load posting in a marketplace model, uShip’s new Pro side for commercial freight – currently in testing – is enabling more seamless connections between shippers, brokers and carriers. Pro is separate from the retail side of uShip’s website, where individuals typically post for live auction-style bidding.

Pro is inviting shippers and brokers to create private networks via uship.com/Pro. “We’ve got about 600 load posters in that space,” says Myers. Participating companies create a private network of carriers within the system.

Among those in the test is a “top-20 truckload broker,” Myers says. “They’ll put loads onto their private network, and we’re seeing a fair number of their carriers coming online and interacting with those loads. They can look at the load, and if they like it, they tender the load to themselves.” The load confirmation is triggered, and the truck is dispatched automatically.

The FTL BFF app for iPhone and Android was developed for Fikes Truck Line’s brokerage wing by Internet Truckstop, which is experimenting with automated load selection from within custom broker apps.

The FTL BFF app for iPhone and Android was developed for Fikes Truck Line’s brokerage wing by Internet Truckstop, which is experimenting with automated load selection from within custom broker apps.

The concept is in some ways similar to what Internet Truckstop is doing with its “branded broker” smartphone apps development program. The first in the series is the FTL BFF app for iPhone and Android, streamlining the connection between Fikes Truck Line’s brokerage wing, FTL Logistics, and its carrier partners. While the FTL app operates similar to an in-house broker load board, ITS is working with others toward a user experience that potentially could eliminate phone calls where appropriate.

A pilot program with another broker working with ITS on a branded app is testing more automated load selection where carriers “could select the load right from the app, and it could generate the appropriate notifications,” says Thayne Boren, ITS director of sales. “We also have a scanning function for signature capture within the branded broker application” – likewise a way to automate check-call statuses using cellular location data.

Internet Truckstop was close to deploying the second in its series of branded broker apps at press time and has about 10 others in development, says Boren.

On the retail side of the uShip marketplace, the uShip Payments system is boosting convenience and security in collections for truckers who’ve completed at least five loads booked via the site and are CarrierWatch-verified or have a 90 percent positive feedback rating associated with uShip. It gives shippers the option to select “online payment,” which secures payment with a credit card and generates a collection token code available to drivers upon the load’s completion.

“We like to have good-looking equipment,” says North Dakota-based Jamie Stewart, shown with driver/business partner Brian Jochim and their Dry Creek Express 2002 flattop Peterbilt 379. “I get in and drive once in a while with local stuff if it slows down.” Little chance of that lately, given the Dakota oil boom. “In North Dakota today, if you have a CDL, it’s like having a piece of gold,” Stewart says. “For the rest of the world with the economy, everything’s tough, but up here it’s a whole different ballgame.”

“We like to have good-looking equipment,” says North Dakota-based Jamie Stewart, shown with driver/business partner Brian Jochim and their Dry Creek Express 2002 flattop Peterbilt 379. “I get in and drive once in a while with local stuff if it slows down.” Little chance of that lately, given the Dakota oil boom. “In North Dakota today, if you have a CDL, it’s like having a piece of gold,” Stewart says. “For the rest of the world with the economy, everything’s tough, but up here it’s a whole different ballgame.”

The system has been live for a year and a half. Combined with an operator’s PayPal or Payoneer account, it can substitute for a merchant account to accept credit card payments, with no extra fees charged beyond uShip’s regular transaction fees at the load’s end.

The security of knowing payment will happen is the system’s primary attraction for North Dakota-based Jamie Stewart, part-owner of Dry Creek Express. Stewart loads two trucks of her own along with those of several owner-operators. About 75 percent of the freight she handles is booked through the uShip marketplace.

“When the job’s done, you get your number, and you’re going to be paid,” she says. “I don’t have to be calling and hustling to get the payment.”

Dean Jutilla of uShip reports some early resistance to the system from transporters, primarily due to the initial lack of available funds before job completion. Today, the company “will often free up money in advance for fuel or repairs” – a sort of cash advance. Feedback largely has been positive since launching that option, Jutilla says.

Follow respective links to find Part 1 and Part 2 of this three-part series.