Ever since developing Possio, a European GPS tracking solution, we’ve been curious about the automation of freight haulage. The transportation industry is connected to many areas of the economy, and its size is quite impressive. So are the problems it faces.
One of them is repositioning empty containers. The big idea here is that vehicles should be filled with cargo at all times, always moving freight, never standing by. Whenever a carrier can’t find freight for the return leg of their trip, they simply lose money. In fact, the cost of moving an empty container is no lower than moving a full one.
We think that the issue of finding freight to move can easily be solved with an Uber-like mobile application.
Based on our experience in web and mobile development, we’ve devised a structure for an Uber for haulage mobile platform. Feel free to use it for reference and inspiration.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to include all features at once: it’s a good idea to start from a minimum viable product (MVP). You can extend its capabilities later as your platform becomes more successful.
The platform we’re discussing consists of three separate interfaces, one each for carriers, shippers, and administrators. To achieve maximum results, they’re implemented through a combination of mobile and web services. While mobile applications offer most of the platform’s functionality, the web version serves as an informational portal for anyone interested in your product. It also operates as the control point for platform administrators.
We offer some general guidelines on what to include in the interfaces for both shippers and carriers. Keep in mind, however, that the separation of features is important, specifically so that users only have access to the features they need. Otherwise, shippers and drivers would have to sift through features that are unnecessary for their user roles, which would make the interface uncomfortable.
Let’s look at a list of features that should be present in both the driver and shipper interfaces.
Registration is necessary for comfort and personalization. Registering allows users to save their personal information, which is especially important since there are many things that shippers and drivers would want to keep: documents, trip histories, contacts and so on. You should use one-time password (OTP) verification to ensure that users enter accurate registration data (email/phone number).
Carriers should be able to link to and attach their vehicle documents, insurance, driver qualifications, and other relevant documents. On the other side, shippers should be able to link to and attach freight documents so drivers can access them.
Automated payments are required for a freight haulage mobile application, as it has to deal with many transactions on a daily basis. By adding an option to save credit card information, you allow users to reuse the information they’ve entered instead of having to type it in over and over again.
Communication is key, especially in transportation. Shippers and drivers should be able to contact each other, and it’s your task to let them do that. Contact information of both shippers and carriers should be available through your platform at all times.
In-app communication can be implemented through text-based chat (which drivers shouldn’t be able to use while driving), which works for less urgent messages. Alternatively, you can integrate a feature to call users directly through the application.
A platform for transportation of freight is likely to be used across borders. Therefore, it’s compulsory that it support various languages and currencies to serve a wider audience.
Many of the features we’re discussing here relate to scheduling and communication. Alerts let users know when anything important happens on the platform, notify about freight reaching its destination, remind about upcoming trips, and let users know about any other important matters.
Once you have the basic features in place, it’s time to tailor your applications based on what specifically your users want to use them for. The following list of user-oriented features should help you accomplish that.
Shippers want to move freight quickly and securely, and they will use your app to find qualified and reliable drivers. Your goal is to provide them with these drivers, and this can be accomplished with an MVP that supports:
- Making shipping requests. This is your platform’s most essential feature. When making a request, shippers should be able to describe the freight, upload documents related to it, and specify the exact pick-up and drop-off locations.
- Viewing nearby carriers on a map. For efficiency of planning, shippers should be able to view all nearby drivers on the map (like in Uber). This way they can estimate how quickly a carrier can get to them and have an understanding of when the delivery can take place.
- Trip booking and cancellation. There are two main types of bookings: instant and in-advance. Of course, the perfect choice is to support both. One option might do, however, depending on the goals you’ve set for your platform.
In-advance booking is favored by large businesses and those who prefer planning ahead. Making logistics easier, in-advance booking lets users build shipping schedules and choose their preferred drivers. Instant booking, on the other hand, could be popular as a last-minute solution. If a previously booked delivery option doesn’t work out, users could turn to your application for a backup option.
Trip cancellation is an important capability for a variety of reasons. If a shipper’s plans change, they should be able to cancel a trip. A penalty fee should apply, however, if the cancellation occurs too close to the scheduled time in order to cover for the inconvenience to your platform and the carrier.
Trip tracking. Shippers want to track their freight. There are several ways to implement freight tracking, including check-ins and real-time, depending on what service you want to provide.
Real-time tracking means that users can follow their freight as it’s being transported in real time. Check-ins, on the other hand, are automatic marks showing that freight has passed a specific point on the map.
Proof of delivery (POD). Once cargo has been delivered, shippers want to see physical proof of its having reached the destination. This proof could be provided by drivers either by taking a picture of the delivered freight, scanning barcodes or QR codes, or getting the freight receiver’s electronic signature.
Regardless of the method, POD should then be sent to the shipper either as an in-app message or via email.
Trip history and scheduled trips. Keeping track of finished trips is important for management, reporting, and legal reasons. Therefore, you should provide shippers with the ability to record shipments they make through your application. A list of scheduled trips is a convenient thing to have on hand to help with planning.
Users should be able to extract these lists of past and scheduled trips from the app in some way – by saving them to PDF, printing them out, or sharing them via email.
Driver ratings and reviews. The ability to leave reviews is a great way of establishing trust and comfort within your platform. Reviews also make it easier for shippers to find exactly the carrier they’re looking for.
Once your platform has been on the market for some time and has established an audience, it’s time to add new features. This can be done during the second phase of development. You might add:
- Trip fare estimation. Upfront estimates provide users with comfort and planning efficiency.
- Vehicle selection. Once there are enough carriers working for your platform, you can let shippers select their preferred vehicle type. This way they can choose the transport that makes the most sense for their cargo.
- An address book. Your platform’s regular users will likely enjoy the ability to save freight destinations for future use.
The goal of freight carriers when using your platform is to find customers and have their trucks filled with cargo at all times. Carriers want this process to be quick, simple, and secure, and that’s exactly what a functional product MVP should achieve. Your MVP should support:
- Receiving and declining shipping requests. Receiving shipping requests provides carriers with jobs. The feature of cancelling them would provide control over their business. Comfort and simplicity is all that’s required to maximize the benefits of this feature.
- Viewing freight documents and details. Drivers are likely to select job offers not only based on distance and deadlines but also based on the freight itself. They could, for instance, decline a request if their vehicle isn’t equipped for carrying specific freight.
Apart from documentation, carriers should also be able to view standard delivery information such as pick-up and drop-off locations and preferred delivery times.
- In-advance trip scheduling. The current issue with freight haulage is finding cargo for certain legs, in particular the return leg, so that vehicles don’t move empty. The ability to plan trips in advance through your platform solves that issue. Carriers can accept a number of requests upfront, ensuring that their vehicles are empty as little as possible.
- Providing POD. Your platform can use device cameras to let drivers provide proof of delivery – either by taking a picture of the freight or by scanning a barcode or QR code on it. Alternatively, you can implement e-signing, which would allow carriers to get the freight receiver’s e-signature. Whatever option you prefer, POD should be delivered to the shipper as a message or via email.
The set of features listed above would be more than enough for a successful platform launch. In order to improve the product further, you could start the second phase of development, implementing the following upgrades:
- Real-time GPS navigation. Automatic routing ensures that carriers reach their destinations as quickly and efficiently as possible. The platform can also display routes upfront once a driver accepts a shipping request so they can start planning deliveries for the return leg.
- Support for multi-stop routing. If we’re talking about carriers accepting several requests at once to fill up their vehicle space, we should also be talking about multi-stop routing. As it’s unlikely that all shipments would need to be delivered to the same location, it would be better if the platform navigated drivers in the most efficient way while incorporating different delivery points.
Administrators oversee platform operations. They add information to the platform and edit it, moderate users, handle conflicts and complaints, manage finances, and so on. What administrators expect is a functional experience that makes their jobs comfortable and simple.
You can provide them with such an experience by offering the following features:
- Managing shippers and carriers. Admins should be able to manage platform users to provide them with comfort and security. For instance, if a carrier has few ratings and numerous poor reviews, an admin should be able to fine or block them.
- Different administrative user roles. It’s common for platforms to have several levels of administrator rights. This helps speed up management while making it more efficient. Lower-level admins can handle minor problems while higher-ranked personnel deal with the larger issues.
- Management of finances. Although you could automate payments completely, it’s still a good idea to give admins the ability to handle them manually. If the technology fails, they should be able to take care of rates, transactions, reports, billing, and invoices.
- Trip management and tracking. This feature serves as an emergency measure if a shipper can’t contact their carrier. Admins should have access to shipment data and be able to manually track each delivery and view the contact information of both shippers and carriers.
- Customer service. Regardless of how sophisticated the technology might be, having a human element is always a useful security measure. Platform users should be able to contact admins at any time and ask them for help solving whatever issues they might be having with the service.
Now let’s take a look at two accomplished haulage platforms. We’ve chosen two products that implement two different approaches so that you can see the variety of options available for building a logistics-based system.
Cargomatic is a logistics company matching shippers and carriers within California and the New York metro area, with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City. They partner with drivers of tractor trailers, box trucks, and cargo vans. Cargomatic offers three types of services: less-than-truckload (LTL), full truckload (FTL), and drayage.
- LTL and FTL are available within 150 miles of downtown San Francisco, LA, and NYC.
- Drayage is available within 150 miles of the Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, New York, and New Jersey ports.
When it comes to shippers, Cargomatic aims to make booking and tracking as simple and painless as possible. Benefits of the service include shipment tracking, real-time status updates, instant PODs, plus same-day pickup and delivery.
As for the drivers, Cargomatic sets a goal of eliminating deadhead miles completely. Their approach allows carriers to come and go as they please and only accept the jobs they want. Among the benefits the platform provides are access to extra shipments, truck tracking, and quick automatic payments.
Transporteca allows users to transport goods by sea, air, rail, and road. Shippers can enter their shipment data (timing, price, service, transit, etc.), view available transportation offers, and choose the one that best meets their requirements. Fares are decided before trips take place to offer transparency and make sure that there are no unexpected pricing issues.
Established in Denmark, Transporteca at first only transported between Asia and Denmark. Today, the service is available in and out of ten European countries: Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands, and the UK.
If you’re looking to develop a haulage platform of your own, feel free to contact our sales department to start discussing the details today. You can also visit the SteelKiwi projects page to see more of the amazing products we’ve developed so far.