Anand Parthasarathy in an article in The Hindu describes Bharat on Wheels (BOW), a "desi" tool to help transport operators as well as you and me keep track of our goods as they are carried across the country by road.
BOW stands for Bharat on Wheels: the company targets the 3 million goods carriers that move on Indian roads at any given time. To track these vehicles, the company makes use of STD phone booths — and a specially designed BOW card which looks like a credit card.
Fleet owners can provide a card to each driver which he will carry to the nearest tracking point, basically a designated STD booth on trunk routes, at major trucking stops and petrol bunks.
The booth operator will transfer details of the truck coded on the card together with a simple numbered message to a local telephone number using a Voice Response System. At the receiving end, a franchisee of BOW, uploads all incoming messages by email to a central hub, where it is processed and placed on a website.
Fleet operators can thus keep track of where each of their vehicles has reached. In addition the system provides the driver with access to emergency help in case of sickness, breakdown or accident.
BOW Network's Managing Director P.S. Selvaraj explains that the service would prove cost effective for fleet operators since the initial cost of each card ( Rs 1100) and the monthly service charge ( Rs 100 for local permit and Rs 300 for national permit vehicles) would work out much less than the amount that each driver spends monthly on STD calls to the head office while en route — typically around Rs 2500..
For regions where the phone service is not digital, making Voice Response systems inoperative, BOW has created a `smart card' where the local franchisee can upload the information using a card reader.
Lay customers who send their personal goods by truck are also served by the BOW system. They can purchase `trip cards' valid for one trip alone costing Rs 75 ( for 5 days) or Rs 125 ( for 10 days) and provide it to the driver. They can then track their goods on the Internet site which will reflect every message the driver logs. And how to motivate the driver to oblige? Every time he logs in at an STD booth, the driver will receive a Rs 2 token. This also allows him to participate in a quarterly draw where the prize is Rs 50,000.
This is certainly much cheaper than solutions involving the installation of GPS receivers costing $100 to $250, on each truck. Truck drivers are also reluctant to let "big brother" in the head office track their movements 24 hours a day. A good example of an attempt at an innovative solution to address a very felt need, but the logistics of setting up a network of tracking points and franchisees makes this too complicated
With the availability of mobile phones with roaming, I wonder why none of the mobile companies have come up with any solution addressing this need yet. A simple prepaid SIM with roaming enabled should do the trick. Truck drivers can be called by the head office twice or thrice a day to figure out their location and progress and a database maintained at the head office. The drivers can also call in to report any delays or problems. The cost of this will be very minimal and this could also be marketed as a value add to truck drivers by giving a certain number of outgoing calls free for them to keep in touch with their family.
Who will be the first operator to rise to this challenge? Not that it requires an operator to do much. Any trucking company can set this up themselves with a little bit of help from someone to develop their back-end database and web-based front end.