Transportation safety advocates bring their message about the dangers of TNCs to the San Antonio (Texas) City Council last month. Photo by Rivard Report.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — The most interesting moments at a trade show happen in the aisles, lobbies, corridors and bars — places where one-on-one informal talks elicit the most memorable anecdotes.
One insightful story I heard at this year’s LCT-NLA Show East came from a New York City operator I ran into on the show floor of the Atlantic City Convention Center. I will title his anecdote, “The Prodigal Chauffeur.” The longtime experienced operator who runs a fleet of about 100 vehicles told me how he lost his favorite chauffeur last year. The chauffeur was known for providing premium customer service, with attention to detail and a solid command of client expectations. He was one of the highest earning and most requested chauffeurs on call.
The chauffeur left abruptly one day, leading the operator to assume he had gone into business for himself. That’s a common path for the most successful chauffeurs who build long client rosters and impeccable reputations. Except, this chauffeur became a driver — for Uber, the Transportation Networking Company luring drivers with promises of riches and flexible schedules. But after one year, the chauffeur-turned-driver (and those of us in the limo industry know the difference) left Uber, having worked himself much harder for lower pay. He lost most of his money.
Ashamed, the chauffeur could not face the operator who had once considered him the star of the team. The operator eventually found out, and the two reunited, with the ashamed chauffeur asking for forgiveness. The operator simply asked, “Why didn’t you come back to me sooner?” The chauffeur got his job back, much the wiser for having consorted with a TNC.
I relay this for two reasons: First, the anecdote proves once again how Uber drivers must work long hours and days just to make ends meet, belying the false promises of six-figure salaries. TNC vehicles wear out faster and maintenance gets skipped due to squeezing in more and more discounted rides. You don’t have to be in the limousine business very long to see where that scenario leads.
Secondly, this represents many of the mounting tales of TNC life we’re hearing, from chauffeurs, passengers and operators who have been burned in one way or another. Bit by bit, these stories are forming an overarching narrative: TNCs trick you, ignore the rules, and can hurt you. That’s a simple message any ground transportation rider can understand. During the Show, we again heard the call for operators to explain why limousine service is safer, and how rules protect the riding public. Every operator can do this for three key audiences: Chauffeurs, clients and the public.
Chauffeurs: Make sure chauffeurs understand the bottom line difference between working as a paid employee, an exclusive independent contract chauffeur, and TNC driver. Comparing the pay of a chauffeur employee who works 40 hours a week plus overtime and benefits versus a free-lance TNC driver is not an apples-to-apples comparison. The limousine company chauffeur can have a life after putting in 40-plus hours per week. The TNC driver will have to work more than 80 hours per week to earn the same pay, let alone break even on the overhead. Start an employee/chauffeur electronic newsletter or e-mail-sends that keep them informed of TNC labor challenges.
Clients: Don’t think your clients won’t get tempted by TNC allures. TNCs are trying to penetrate business and managed corporate travel, so they will not rule out targeting any clients, including your most reliable VIPs. As with chauffeurs, keeping your clients informed will take constant communication, in the form of e-mails, e-newsletters, letters and simple awareness messages coupled with any special service offerings or packages you promote.
Public: Explain how safety rules benefit the riding public and why the chauffeured transportation vastly exceeds TNCs on that front. Chauffeured transportation/limousine services are the sleeping giant of the travel world. Most of the public just hasn’t been told or taught the virtues of this industry, and how reliable, comfortable, safe, and comparatively affordable a limo sedan can be. The NLA's recent PR effort could well be the defining moment when wider swaths of the public are not only informed about the truth of TNCs, but enlightened about chauffeured services.
During an industry women leaders’ panel at the Show, Music Express CEO Cheryl Berkman elaborated on this point. As the president of a non-profit action group called Advocates For Fairness In Transportation, Berkman has emerged as an outspoken proponent of regulatory parity and safety for TNCs and a defender of chauffeured transportation.
“You would be amazed how uneducated our clientele is out there. We actually provide someone who is trained, drug tested, and background checked. Our clients believed the TNCs were like Music Express. I called my clients and educated them. It’s all I’ve done for months and months, and will continue to do for the industry. You need to give letters to all of your clients because it’s now in our hands to educate the public on what this is all about. The TNCs have to be regulated like us. They cannot go out there and not be background checked and drug tested. They can’t go out and kill and maim people and say, ‘We’re a technology company so we have no responsibility.’”
When people worry about their safety and welfare, they listen and wise up. Operators can enlighten their chauffeurs, clients and the public in numerous ways. Now build the momentum.