NRMA is celebrating 90 Years of Roadside Assistance in October. Here’s the eighth in a series of blogs about our story.
RELIABLE: During a challenging dawn of the decade for Australia, the NRMA quietly went about its business to better serve its Members.
As the 21st century loomed, the 90s was a decade of introspection across all areas of Australian social and cultural life, as economic recession, indigenous issues and the prospect of republicanism spurred national debate. By the close of the decade, advances in communication and the advent of the internet meant that Australians had become global citizens ready for the dawn of a century of ‘interconnectivity’.
During the challenges for Australia at the dawn of the decade, the NRMA quietly went about its business to better serve its Members. In 1991, the introduction of a custom net 13 phone network made it possible to call the NRMA help line from anywhere in Australia. This improved Roadside Assistance coverage as it enabled Members to get help from local road service organisations across the country.
The new number meant shorter waiting times for Members, as the network was capable of handling 3.5 million calls per year. Among the improvements, the number of callers waiting more than an hour for a patrol to be dispatched was halved. Naturally, as the service improved, the Membership base grew and in 1991 a new record 9,669 calls were handled in one day, which was also the wettest 24 hours recorded in 100 years!
BATTERY BLUES: failed batteries were still a common form of breakdown for members in the 90s
The return of VH2AM
Knowledge sharing and networking across the patrol fleet remained as crucial as ever back but improvements in communication made it faster and easier. From the early years, internal magazines like Do you Know?, In Roads and The Good Oil shared news of technical tips, upgrades and company information throughout the organisation.
However, in 1994, the staff circular was revolutionised through the cassette recording of VH2AM, ‘The voice of NRMA road service’. The name echoed the original call sign from when the association was granted its first radio channel in 1949. This new media meant patrols could listen whilst driving from job to job, just as they would the radio.
Patrols were also encouraged to continue to share handy tips, stories and innovative ideas by calling into the recording broadcast. VH2AM is still used today as internal communication, albeit with a few more technological advances!
MULL(ET)ING IT OVER: Trade and technical training sessions were arranged to allow patrols to share tips and pass on knowledge.
The rise of mobile phones
The 90′s also saw a boom in communication technology. The internet began to deliver the world to Australia’s fingertips while mobile phones provided the gateway to portable communication. Although the technology was welcomed, the increased usage of mobile phones created a new challenge for NRMA’s busy call centres.
Previously, Members used public phones or land lines, which provided fixed locations to dial road service. With mobile phones, Members could call from any location without knowing exactly where it was! Thankfully, upgrades in mobile phone technology soon rectified this problem as internet and GPS were enabled within the devices.
Van display upgrades
As technology advanced, changes were also made to the patrol van display terminals. In 1995, a combination of data plus two-way radio capabilities made way for full data, allowing allowing more information to be displayed on the screen.
The terminals were upgraded again towards the end of the decade with larger monitors that were easier to read. The new system also linked to a technical knowledge database, allowing patrolmen to look up vehicle complaints in the database and be shown possible solutions. Patrol motorcycles were also upgraded during the late 1990s. From the BMWs to Honda ST110s, these new motorcycles had towing capabilities for dedicated motorcycle trailers.
Patrol stories- Walter Fazakerley
“About 8pm on a Thursday night I received a phone call from the NRMA control room to ask if I could assist and elderly lady who could not find her way home in the dark. Of course I could go to help an old lady.
We arrived at the restaurant nominated to find the elderly lady propped up by her crutches beside her car.
It was quite obvious that she couldn’t have driven the car to where it was, let alone home again. I didn’t mention this fact even though I was curious. So my wife drove the van while I drove the lady’s car to her home.
By this time my curiosity had gotten the better of me. I just had to ask her how she managed to get to the restaurant if she could not drive home.
“Oh, my boyfriend asked me out to dinner and drove us to the restaurant in my car. We had an argument in the restaurant and I told him to get lost. With this he got up and just left, the bill and me too!”
Do you have any memories of NRMA from the 90′s? Did mobile phones change anything for you?
You can also commemorate this occasion with an NRMA 90 Years t-shirt. All proceeds go directly to the Leukemia Foundation.