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New high-tech approach to roadside assistance

High-tech, on-demand roadside-assistance dispatches help with the tap of an app button

A new tech company is changing the future of roadside assistance, enabling stranded motorists to avoid long waits through call centers. San Antonio-based Mach I Services advertises itself as a “first of its kind, on-demand roadside assistance company that automatically dispatches help when you need it.”

Mach I is the “first company to fully automate and digitize the roadside assistance industry,” says Mach I CEO Rick Narpaul, who compares its operations with Uber or Lyft, but with the plus of its service providers helping the stranded vehicle get roadworthy. 

Changing tires, putting gas in the tank and jump-starting the vehicle are the typical types of “soft services” provided. In situations requiring a tow truck or a trained technician, the request can be turned into a manual dispatch of a higher-skilled provider in the Mach I system.

“So, think of a phone app. If you get a flat tire you don’t have to call somebody,” Narpaul says. “You press a button, a map pops up and you know who’s coming to pick you up, and you know what it’s going to cost you.

“The best thing about Mach I is that you (the service provider) don’t have to be a tow company,” he says. “If you know how to drive, you can pick someone up at point A and drop them off at point B, that’s what Mach I is.”  Service providers don’t have to be on duty 24-7 and can log into the system at their convenience to show they’re available. 

Mach I, which began operations in the spring of 2019, is live in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and Corpus Christi, and has plans to expand nationally.

“It’s only in Texas right now,” he says. “We have providers (available to work) in 49 states, but we need to make sure that we have enough providers in a region. Just because we have them in the state doesn’t mean we have them all over. We’re heavy in California — the Bay Area, the Los Angeles area, but we also want to cover the outskirts.” 

Narpaul points to problems typical roadside-assistance services have, which Mach I eliminates. There are no membership fees or hidden costs, he says. “They might only cover $30 or $40 of whatever your service is and you’ve got to pay the additional to get it done.” Another problem is the long wait time because tow trucks often have to drive around to locate the stranded motorist, Narpaul says. It’s a process that’s particularly difficult at busy intersections. “We’ve solved that problem with GPS popping up.”

The average response time for Mach I assistance in San Antonio is 17 minutes, says Laura Narpaul, president of Mach I. “That blows away all of the other companies. They go through manual-dispatch call centers, so it’s no wonder it’s taking them so long.” 

Part of the reason there’s often a slow response by traditional providers is that the call centers often do price haggling with the providers, and they have to call multiple providers, she says. “With our app we know who’s available, and they accept the call and just go straight to the customer.”

Hiring vetted providers is another challenge in the industry, and not every tow company has performed a background check on the person it sends to help the stranded motorist. Mach I reports it conducts a six-point background check for all providers, and the phone number that they sign up with is how they log into the app.

When a Mach I provider accepts a job, he/she sees the customer’s first name and last initial, and the customer receives the same information about the provider. The customer also sees the provider’s star rating, which indicates past service performance. The app verifies the arrival of a Mach I service provider and their vehicle displays a Mach I identification sticker.

Hiring veterans and first responders is a Mach I focus, and the company has a special program that onboards them for free and covers the background costs.

“We are starting to see veterans transitioning out of the military and they’re asking, `Can I just make this my business, can I hire people?’” Rick Narpaul says.

Aside from hiring people to provide soft services, Mach I is working toward providing technical training, and hiring more experienced mechanics and tow-truck drivers.

“The tow industry and mechanic industry are extremely tight-knit,” he says. “Mechanics may get off work at five o’clock and turn on the app. Same with the guys who operate tow trucks – when they get done, they jump in their own pickup trucks and turn on the app.”

The Mach I system also can be “white labeled” for the automobile industry, allowing another company to put its name on the service. “The big motor companies out there are promising lifetime roadside assistance, but what they are not telling you is that it’s going to take a lifetime to get the help,” he says. “With this, it’s going to simplify it so they can white-label this technology. They can put their name on the front end. It could say whatever company they want to, and then the back end is our network and everything else – our technology operating.”

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