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Machine learning-based mobile app helps UK haulage firms cut fuel costs

Madrid-based startup Ontruck has developed a new machine learning-driven app that helps UK haulage firms to increase their efficiency by cutting both 'empty miles' and fuel costs

Madrid-based startup Ontruck wants to help more UK haulage firms cut their fuel costs by using its machine learning-based mobile app to help better plan their delivery routes.

The platform allows Ontruck’s algorithms to offer instant prices on shipments and help users find the most efficient delivery routes. It can also make assignment decisions on the user’s behalf, and link related shipments together to prevent under-filled vehicles congesting the roads.

Ontruck claims the technology can reduce empty miles, where a truck is on the road without a load, by up to 25%.

A number of big companies, including Alcampo, P&G and Decathlon, are also already using Ontruck to automate the planning and management of their regular deliveries, their shipments, while the haulage community has also emerged as an early adopter of the technology since it first came to Britain in February 2018.

To date, Ontruck has facilitated more than 5,000 shipments in the UK, representing 53,000 tonnes of goods and over 500,000 loaded miles, and launched in France earlier this month. Ontruck also claim that 80% of loads are accepted in under five minutes of them going live on the app, and have an overall completion rate of 93%

“My fleet right now consists of five vehicles, which are light goods vehicles, and some vans,” said John Masikito, company director of Jonson Transport. “It’s got to the point where Ontruck are about 60% of my ledger now, purely because we trust them.”

He adds that drivers at Jonson Transport like the app because all the relevant information can be accessed in one place, from the number of pallets in an order to the pick-up and drop-off locations.

Enhanced capabilities

Tony Lowde, managing director of Lowde Logistics, which operates a small fleet of eight trucks and two vans, agrees that Ontruck generally enhances the company’s capabilities, specifically highlighting how regular payments have helped with the business’s cashflow.

Payments by Ontruck are made regularly at the end of a month, no matter when the journey was made. While this means carriers who completed Ontruck loads at the start of a month may have to wait 30 days, the money will be always be transferred to them on the selected date.

“I know I’m guaranteed my payment is going to come. I’ve never had any problems getting it which is very good for my liquid assets and cashflow,” said Masikito, who added that the certainty of payment has given him the confidence to begin expanding his operations.

“It’s kind of a scary move, getting into the heavy hauling side of things. As we grow, the fuel bill is going to get bigger, so getting paid on time is the main thing for us – it’s very important as a small business because late payments could kill you, break you. Ontruck have helped us have the confidence to go and spend over a quarter of a million on vehicles because we know that the work is going to be there.”

As a startup entering a new market, however, Ontruck is still encountering growing pains, particularly in terms of communication.

“The communication from Ontruck is difficult sometimes,” said Lowde. “All the details in the app are there, but sometimes we need a more personal response, and trying to get people on the phone can be challenging.”

The personal touch

This view is corroborated by Masikito, who wants to make it easier for his drivers to contact Ontruck directly: “I understand they’re quite busy, they’re dealing with hundreds of other transport companies, but I like the personal touch of a phone call, which I as an operator can do, but my drivers are actually scared to call up and speak to someone.”

Lowde said Ontruck is also too London-centric at present and does not cover a geographically diverse enough area. Ontruck UK managing director David Jennison said the firm is intent on ramping up its nationwide coverage in 2019.

“The problems we have in the UK are not capacity problems, they’re problems of efficient resource allocation, so you don’t need to limit the number of trucks that come into cities, you just need to use trucks more effectively, because that has the net effect of reducing the number of vehicles that come in.”

“So rather than saying to people, ‘no vehicles are allowed in beyond this number’, which obviously hurts business, it’s much more effective to optimise people’s current operations.”

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