Toronto-based startup Rapitow, billing itself as the "Uber for tow trucks," enables members to hail the nearest available operator by GPS, and to track its progress on a mobile device.
The app was launched for use in the Toronto area last week, with membership costing $9 a month for a single car, no matter who is driving, with additional cars costing $7 more a month. The only additional fee members could face is a $2 a kilometre charge after the first 100.
"You've just got to ... run the app, tap for help, and indicate that you need a tire change, and Rapitow will connect you to the closest service provider in our network," said Waheed Subhani, co-founder of Rapitow. "Using the GPS in the driver app and the GPS in the member app, we are able to connect you to the very closest service provider, and that gives you the fastest arrival time."
Rapitow has partnered with numerous towing companies in Ontario, providing them a network of approximately 500 operators, according to Subhani. He and his co-founder, brother-in-law and 23-year tow-truck veteran Joe Borg, are well aware of the issues that plague the towing industry, including price gouging and service delays. Bill 15, passed into law by the Ontario legislature on Nov. 20, amended existing statutes "in the interest of reducing insurance fraud, enhancing tow and storage service," despite protests from tow truck drivers.
"If you're a Rapitow member, your price is assured, there aren't going to be extra fees," Subhani says.
Subhani and Borg also intend to avoid contentious features of Uber, such as Uber X – allowing users to hail unlicensed cabs – and price surging, which increases fees according to demand. The co-founders claim that during snowstorms, when demand is high and some drivers are left in the cold for hours, Rapitow customers will be served sooner.
"On a per-call, per-kilometre basis, we're paying higher than the industry average," said Subhani, adding Rapitow can do so because of the money it saves from not having a dispatch centre.
"When there's a foot of snow out there and you're a tow operator, you'll be really happy to take the Rapitow call, because not only are we going to pay a little bit more, it's hard to get anywhere in a snowstorm," Borg said.
Will operators take part? Jason Lauder, owner of J-Hooks Towing in Toronto's west end, cites the higher pay and lower travel time as reasons for using the app. He is recommending it to other tow truck operators.
"What I like about this is that the customer is close to you," he said. "I've had two calls already, and they've not been past eight kilometres."
While CAA already offers roadside assistance to its six million members across Canada, Subhani says there's an opportunity for both services to co-exist, as some drivers might prefer hearing a voice on the other end of the phone when they call for help, while others prefer to track its progress on a map.
Starting in January, Rapitow will also offer an on-demand service for non-members who want to hail a tow through the app, though they will have to pay normal industry rates.
Borg and Subhani are aiming to roll out Rapitow in every major Canadian city within 90 days, and hope to cover the entire country within six months before moving to the United States, Europe and beyond.
"It's an easily scalable solution. If we want to go to Europe, it's not like we have to buy a whole bunch of tow trucks and ship them over, we're working with existing providers," says Subhani. "Our plan is to go global."