Almost there: GroundLink proves the limo industry can provide a high quality near-demand app with all the conveniences and features, except literal on-demand. It proves ideal for short-term reservations.
Next month’s issue includes my main news article introducing the GroundLink
chauffeured app to the LCT audience. Although many of us have been aware of the app since it launched in 2011, its global expansion is more recent. In the article, I loosely adopt the theme that if Uber could be “tutored” by GroundLink, then the transportation network company wouldn’t be compromising safety, hiring so many criminal drivers, and incurring so much media wrath.
GroundLink is an executive black car service in major cities worldwide, offering on-time guarantees, professional chauffeurs who are background checked and licensed, and late-model luxury vehicles insured at limousine industry levels with a $6 million public liability policy. GroundLink takes bookings via iPhone and Android apps, its website, and a 24/7 customer call center.
GroundLink, like Blacklane, is more of a near-demand app, although response times are getting fairly short (20 min. or less) in the New York City area. Beyond that, it exceeds Uber in every possible way.
I tested the GroundLink app a few months ago between home and work, an eight mile journey. The first time around, I used their luxury level service class, getting a BMW 740i. The next time, I sampled the business class, and pleasantly enough, got picked upgraded to a BMW 740i.
GroundLink passed all the chauffeured performance tests, just like an elite limousine service: Arrived a few minutes before scheduled pick up time; courteous, friendly chauffeur in a suit who knew how to carry good conversations; plenty of bottled water; clean, comfortable leather seats; and chauffeur had excellent driving skills and knowledge of area, fleet vehicles, etc.
Another advantage of GroundLink is its e-communication, with texts and a live GPS tracking of the vehicle enabled by its partnership with Limo Anywhere.
Like competitors, GroundLink requires up to a two-hour reservation window, although in my case it was three because I live outside one of their key zones. When I asked GroundLink rep about this, he found out that GroundLink is changing its zone structure in the Los Angeles area by next quarter, setting my area’s pick up ETA to a max of two hours consistent with the rest of the Los Angeles region. And as I will report in the July issue, GroundLink is moving toward a mileage-based system instead of zones in setting reservation times, rates and chauffeur compensation.
The one criticism I would make of my GroundLink rides are the prices. The luxury class price for my trip was $132, all-in. For business class, $115 all-in. That’s a bit much for such a trip, given that I can get a high-end limousine company to take me twice the distance to LAX for $110 all-in. The rides also cost more than my Blacklane test run I did earlier this year for the same distance, at $64 all-in. Admittedly, my rates seemed to be above the mean for typical GroundLink airport transfers, which the company details on its website for cities nationwide.
Pricing is a sensitive issue among operators. The economies of scale enabled by technology have pressured rates down and squeezed margins in the ground transportation world. To preserve price integrity while maintaining quality of service, complying with regulations, and competing against TNCs is the key limousine industry challenge now. So if GroundLink charges rates that enable operators to supplement their revenue streams, while maintaining all the high standards of limo service, then good for it and so be it.
But the hurdle will be to persuade more of the riding public to pay more for better overall value, safety, and duty-of-care, especially when a Lyft or an Uber lurks around every urban corner, luring wealthy and budget riders alike. We’ll have much more to report about pricing policies in LCT.
The 2016 election year also marked LCT's own brand of anti-establishment activity.
The more casual and coarse society gets, the more chauffeured service can gleam with a counter-couture-culture.