An Atm Card For 18 Wheelers

This Web thing ain't your pappy's CB radio. Ask truckers carrying C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc.'s Internet-hitched debit card. They don't worry about paying for fuel or repairs. Dispatchers add cash over the Web if bucks run low. "Our drivers are never stuck," says Scott Fuller, a manager at Anderson Trucking Service Inc. of St. Cloud (Minn). "If they need more cash, funds can be added on their cards in real-time on the Internet."

Because of the Net, Eden Prairie (Minn). based Robinson isn't your pappy's freight broker, either. While it still gets most of its revenue from consolidating clients' freight shipments, moves like T-Cards and online package tracking are driving growth. Since 1998, Robinson's sales have grown 22% per year, up from 15%. "Shipment volume has increased sharply and turnover is quicker," says President John Wiehoff. Competitors noticed: Six big trucking firms set up a competing site.

The heart of the T-card system: Pages that let managers like Fuller keep better track of truckers' expenses. Fuller can set and enforce company policies with a mouse--restricting card use to budget restaurants, say, instead of Alain Ducasse. The Web aggregates clients' fuel bills to exploit volume discounts. It cuts Robinson's costs too: Fewer operators take round-the-clock trucker calls.

Nearly as promising is Robinson's Web package-tracking system and a satellite network that tells dispatchers exactly where each truck is--and how full it is--when clients need pickups. This may sound familiar to customers of United Parcel Service Inc. or FedEx Corp., but it's new to the truckload-shipping business. Just goes to show: You can't spell "a big 10-4" without one and zero.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.