The wave of bad news about how Transportation Networking Companies are disrupting the limousine industry can get discouraging, if that’s all you focus on. Although the taxi industry has been hit much harder, limo operators should not derive any temporary comfort from that scenario. Taxis are on the front lines now because they are cheaper than chauffeured cars.
Regulatory clashes will not subside soon, with many of the tactics and results out of the control of the average limo operator. But there are five targeted things all operators can do to support regulatory fairness and move in a positive direction. The state of TNCs will not endure.
Speak Out: You have all the tools to get the word out about TNC troubles. Social media, Internet comment boards, public hearings, e-mail campaigns, blogs, your company website, YouTube videos, public service announcements, letters to the editor, and local civic and business group meetings can be tapped to tell the truth about TNCs. There is so much to work with. A 6-year-old girl is dead. Women have been groped. A driver beat a male passenger with a hammer. Drivers complain about low pay; riders about price surges. Businesspeople have missed appointments. This qualifies as “carnage” in war terms. Look for such TNC problems in your areas, and get the word out in the way you prefer. The world now listens to “buzz.”
Talk Tough: Uber and TNC acolytes are aggressive, strident, confident, and in-your-face. This is not a time for tame tongues or reserved approaches. TNCs need to be rebuffed in the strongest ways possible. Remember the fatal limousine fire of 2013, and how it led to media madness about limousine safety? In hindsight, much of that was overdone, but effective. It got the public’s attention. You can do the same with TNCs. Now, it’s the limousine industry’s turn. Just as many operators got on their local news programs and talked about safety, you can talk about TNCs, and highlight how chauffeured transportation remains the safest option. Contact media outlets and suggest your company as a storyline in reports about TNCs. Hone a simple message about safety and good service, and then pile drive it hard. Need an example of how to speak truth to power? See Cheryl Berkman, CEO of Music Express. She tells it like is. So can you.
Sign Up: You may hear this a lot, but it’s worth repeating: Industry associations and groups will be the leaders in solving problems. The Greater California Livery Association and the National Limousine Association, for example, already have made big strides in legislation and messaging. While the groups retain professional lobbyists, they can’t do it alone. As I witnessed at the GCLA’s lobbying event in Sacramento in February, every operator can lobby or testify on some level, if only to provide real-life examples of company operations, along with heartfelt anecdotes of regulatory injustice. Politicians, most of whom are not and never will be businesspeople, need to hear facts and sentiments to get moving.
Service Up: Many operators tell me this battle will be won more around customer service, not regulations. The service failures of TNCs already are mounting. We just haven’t heard about them all (See No. 1). Chauffeured transportation always has stood for excellent service, ahead of taxis, shuttles, mass transit and TNCs. The solution lies in harnessing the technology of apps and on-demand to such high-quality service. If you haven’t already, explore adopting a branded app. By the time you read this, I will have hosted a panel on that topic at LCT-NLA Show East. Two examples to check out: www.tororide.com, an advanced reservation app for high-end limousine service in Los Angeles, and the London-based GLiiDe.co., where the client has to sign up for the privilege of reserving a chauffeured Tesla sedan. Every chauffeured niche, no matter how small, can be channeled, marketed and grown via an app. What if your company had a branded app called “Limo Date,” for couples who want to reserve a chauffeured ride via an app? Or an “Airport Limo” app, that enables clients to reserve airport-only transfers via an app on both ends of a client’s trip? Or one called “Hip Limo,” where users must sign up for the access and privilege to be seen in elite, cool luxury vehicles?
Hit The High Road: Peter Thiel, the author of best-selling “Zero To One,” talked tough (See No. 2) about TNCs recently on CNBC, referring to Uber as “ethically challenged.” Good service and good ethics go hand-in-hand. No matter how discouraging and difficult the regulatory struggle with TNCs gets, NEVER compromise your business ethics. Do not be tempted to cut corners or stoop to the level of Uber and its bad-boy CEO, who is openly contemptuous of anything that stands in the way of what he wants. Corporate history is littered with high-fliers done flopped or flamed out. Stay the course by telling the truth, following the rules, and working through every possible legal, legislative, administrative and media channel to change those rules. Remember, freedom in our country is rooted in equality before the law, not avoidance of the law. The long-term goal for limo operators is to triumph — with your business, clients, profits and reputation intact.