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PARAMUS, N.J. — LCT sat down with GroundWidgets
Founder CEO Apurva Patel
to review the state of emerging on-demand apps and the challenges the limousine industry faces in adjusting to mobile technology.
LCT: What do you see as the major technology shift in the industry now?
Patel: In my mind, operators need to give clients the ability to book on a mobile app. Mobile is the new website. Ten years ago, the mantra was you had to have a website and online reservation system. Today, you have to have a mobile app to allow your clients to book on a mobile device whenever they want your services.
LCT: That leads to the point many industry members are talking about — the emergence of companies that have launched or will launch a universal limousine industry on-demand mobile app to compete with TNCs.
Patel: There are many challenges because most operators are not geared to work with an on-demand customer. Look at the taxi and black car industries; they are geared towards on-demand dispatch because they are used to operating in an ASAP mode. This is a complete shift in the operation mode of the limousine customer. Traditional limousine companies don’t have the drivers out there and don’t want them sitting around. This is an operational shift for the industry. I don’t know how many operators are comfortable switching to an on-demand model.
LCT: It’s interesting because there are operators who say that TNCs are not hurting their business, and there are others who say they are losing business.
Patel: You want to be on-demand to the extent that you can service clients, but are you willing to sacrifice price over function? No way. Today, consumers will equate price to an Uber ride versus a limousine ride. I work in New York and I don’t know any executive who would call a limo to go 10 blocks. They’ll take a taxi because they know it will cost $10 to $15. They’re not calling a limo company for a $60 ride. On-demand operators have a choice — charge traditional price or downgrade service levels for short trips that basically cannibalize their business/pricing model. In fact, customers might start to realize that on-demand limousine service is cheaper than advanced ordering.
LCT: What other obstacles do you see?
Patel: With the on-demand mobile app, you must have a client app and a driver app, and very tight control over that experience because operators cannot afford to have a bridge that goes from the customer, to the back office, and then to the driver, and hope that the driver responds and gets back to the customer. If you don’t have the back-end dispatching system as part of the core strategy, the challenge will always be trying to create this controlled experience from start to finish — from the time the order is placed, to the time the driver is notified, to the time the client is notified, to when the driver is on his way, to the end when the transaction is completed and the card is charged. If they (industry on-demand app companies) want to work with all the operators out there, they have to build the bridge to integrate into every operator’s back-office system.
LCT: Please elaborate on the bridge-integration issues.
Patel: It’s not impossible, but it’s a significant technical challenge that requires a fair amount of work to get it done, especially when you have operators who have their own in-house infrastructure, local servers, connections, and performance issues.