MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — We’re seeing two macro-tendencies emerge among operators as transportation network companies (TNCs) shake up the ground travel sector. I say tendencies, since it’s too soon to call them trends.
First, I’ve noticed and talked to operators joining on- and near-demand apps, such as Blacklane, GroundLink, and Uber Black, as a way to gain business and smooth out fleet usage. More operators admit tech drives the runs.
Secondly, an industry technology solution seems more a matter of getting competing systems to interact, instead of everyone joining one micro-managed platform under one brand. No one seems to want a “Ma Bell” of ground transportation.
Those themes seeped in during a technology panel I hosted at the LCT Leadership Summit in May and at a related one the previous day. I told the attendees upfront we would be stepping on the “industry’s third rail,” given the passion the subject of apps and TNCs draws from operators. Panelists agreed tech platforms and providers must find a way to connect but preserve brands and secure data.
Let’s face it: Why should one player dominate? It smacks of a monopoly. Even in the consolidated airline and hotel sectors, you still have competing companies, although hotel chains subdivide into distinct brands or tiers. A Courtyard Marriott, for example, contrasts with a Spring Hill Suites. Eventually, small to medium-sized fleet operators choose to handle runs from among several app companies or providers, and give their clients an on-demand option.
For example, a 10 to 15-vehicle fleet operation could have a software system that connects to those of other companies, allowing them to see each other’s vehicles and farm in/out in real-time without revealing back-end data. That same company could still serve a core local clientele via website, phone and mobile device; pick and choose to take runs from a tech-driven ride app, such as Blacklane or GroundLink during down times; and offer a co-branded white label app, either on its own or with other local limo services that want to provide on- or near-demand service. Throw in dynamic, tiered pricing and you get a real, flex-time limousine company, both nimble and traditional, depending on the client and the connection.
Such diverse fleet options in a fractured, multi-gen client base would empower more business models. In this issue, we feature a company I visited, VIP Global of Miami, taking a contrary approach in a TNC-disrupted market. They put every aspect of limousine service on steroids. From fleet vehicles, to technology, to customer service, VIP is all high-end. And the operator grabs the challenge to combine his premium service with on-demand tools. He knows if he and others like him don’t do it, or at least join it, others will.
Tech Conquers All?
Dashride CEO and co-founder Nadav Ullman (L), pictured with CTO and co-founder Tom Bachant, advocates connecting limo companies on the tech back end while preserving their brands and choices on the front end.
Like the five panelists I hosted, two other tech entrepreneurs I spoke with for this column underscore the need to cooperate and connect.
“It’s important that we do unify and all limo companies come together to service consumer demand, but they need to find a way without forcing everyone to switch back office systems out,” said Nadav Ullman, co-founder and CEO of Dashride of New York. “For this industry to compete, a few things need to be taken into account: By no means is the answer, ‘Let’s all go under same company or same brand.’ The answer is to empower each of the brands with the best tools, while in the background connecting them.
“We all have to be able to come together and share rides back and forth, farm in and out, and work on becoming on demand and near demand, becoming larger and larger,” Ullman said.
Another tech software and app platform entrepreneur, Sid Forougi, owner of Midnight Express limousine service in Laguna Niguel, Calif., says the industry needs a cloud-based integrator that offers flexible, voluntary participation in a nationwide network of available vehicles.
“Our industry needs to unite operators,” Forougi told me. “The problem we have is fragmentation. I voiced it a long time ago to big companies. If we could address the fragmentation, we could solve the problem. One can have their own network, and connect with however many other networks that could be on the cloud. You have it subscription based, able to deliver to anyone, and operators can choose who to network with.”
At least industry tech leaders are talking amongst themselves and to operators. Look for good things to bubble up soon enough.
On a hopeful note, during another panel talk an attendee praised the industry for the good story it can tell about its safety, duty-of-care, reliability, and luxury service. Such qualities put limousine companies far ahead of the TNCs. Every operator has the tools to tell that story, now.