The New Jersey-based company wants to compete in the growing TNC market.
iCars is a new on-demand and future reservation network of certified chauffeured transportation companies working together to provide a higher level of service and security for the traveling public.
Launched and tested in San Francisco seven months ago, the company is moving fast to roll out its service to major U.S. markets to counter on-demand transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft. The iCars platform is designed to enable limousine operators to serve their clients on a private network, while offering new revenue opportunities on the open market through its on demand app system.
LCT sat down with iCars President Daniel Shifrin to further explain the new service and how it works for participating operators. Shifrin, who has a long history in ground transportation, started his career in financial services. Then, in cooperation with 3M, he invented the Autowrap, a product that is used to promote products and services by wrapping vehicles in advertising. After a successful exit, Shifrin joined Zipcar, where he was responsible for launching markets across North America and developing its B2B product. After the company went public and was bought by Avis, Shifrin joined Limos.com where he developed its B2B platform and focused on Fortune 500 companies.
FAST FACTS: iCars On Demand, Inc.
San Francisco, CA 94158
Gary Bauer, Chairman
Daniel Shifrin, President
Gary Schwartz, Chief Financial Officer
Alec Summers, Chief Technology Officer
LCT: Tell us about the company’s mission and growth plans since your soft launch in San Francisco several months ago?
Shifrin: We’re trying to help operators bridge the evolution from the traditional way of doing business to the new wave of consumer ground transportation services. As far as our traction, we launched with more than 10 San Francisco Bay area operators and 10 hotel clients. We are signing on enough operators to develop initial vehicle inventory to roll out our open market product in the top 10 U.S. markets. Then we’ll start marketing campaigns to announce the on-demand service. Initial cities include Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, followed by Miami, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Portland, Seattle, Atlanta, Orlando and Las Vegas.
LCT: Who are iCars’ partners?
Shifrin: Like so many other limousine industry-generated technologies, such as FASTTRAK and TripTracker, for example, iCars is the brainchild of an experienced operator, Gary Bauer, who started Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation in San Francisco in 1989. We have a partnership with Limos.com, which has a loyal following of more than 1,000 operators. As we all know, Limos.com is a lead generation online tool. The leads are harvested from the retail travel space and pushed to chauffeured transportation companies linked to Limos.com. Its reach is far and wide, and now our partnership brings iCars technology to all of those Limos.com clients nationwide.
LCT: Please explain how the iCars platform works.
Shifrin: The iCars platform is designed to enable operators to service their clients and generate new opportunities on the open market. We’re not requiring operators to change the way they do business. Our private network allows them to do exactly what they have been doing. iCars operators can create their own private networks of clients and negotiated rates, making the platform easy to integrate with their operations. The on-demand aspect of the service is based on open market rates that will be set based on Uber Black and Uber SUV rates city by city. The open rate is non-negotiable with no surge pricing. Also, depending on the city, the open rate could be slightly higher or lower than the TNC rate, but will usually be better than anything out there when considering the quality of vehicles and drivers.
LCT: What are some of the main insights operators need to know about iCars?
Shifrin: In no way does the iCars system replace an operator’s back-end system because this is a driver and client app. But we have to give them a way to manage it all and assign rides by request from operators in the network. The process works with back-end systems that manage an operator’s fleet-sharing information back and forth among systems.
The product enables operators to choose if they want an open market request to go directly to the driver or through their back-end system. The ride will pop up in the account of the operator, who can assign from dispatch. It’s up to the operator how to control it. The iCars technology also incorporates operator fleet management capabilities so operators and iCars know which vehicles are pre-booked or available for on-demand service. That gives the system intelligent real-time management for on-demand availability and to book future reservations. Operators have the option to turn on or off the on-demand app depending on their fleet availability.
LCT: How is iCars priced?
Shifrin: Pricing works like this:
Open Network: On-demand rates are similar to Uber Black rates by each respective city. Point-to-Point rates are negotiated by clients.
Private Network: Affiliates negotiate their own rates including on-demand and point-to-point. Our Fees: Private Network Rides: $1.50 per ride. Open Network Rides: 15% of the net gross fare.
Affiliate Referrals: On a private network, affiliates determine their own referral fees as long as the ride remains within their network. If a ride is handled by an open affiliate, then the referring affiliate would receive 5% of the value of the net gross fare.
LCT: Elaborate on the quality of vehicles and company and driver standards that define iCars.
Shifrin: The on-demand service provided by operators meets, or exceeds, all of the requirements the limousine industry complies with — commercial insurance, employee status, driver drug testing and background checks, vehicle maintenance and safety requirements, and a “laundry list of stringent items operators need to [follow] to come onboard.”
All drivers in the iCars network are employed by a participating transportation provider and undergo rigorous driver training, background checks and drug testing. All vehicles in the iCars network are owned and operated by participating transportation providers, and are a maximum of three years old. They are meticulously maintained by certified mechanics. The iCars network is comprised of the leading transportation providers worldwide.
LCT: Give us a snapshot of how the network on-demand features work.
Shifrin: For example, say Limo Company A has a corporate client who needs on-demand service and uses the iCars app. Company A gets first crack to book the run if vehicles are available in the vicinity. If not, the call then bounces out to the available operator network to vehicles in the vicinity that meet the client’s criteria embedded in his/her profile (class of car, other specifications, etc.). Then, the first vehicle closest to the client that meets the criteria books the run.
LCT: How does it work with affiliates?
Shifrin: We know this is a difficult evolution for operators and their affiliates. We designed a marketplace where they can make those decisions to accommodate demand or refer to the open market. Affiliates would register and be associated with that operator. When a client flies to a city not serviced by the main operator and requests a ride, that request would be first routed to the preferred affiliate. Operators can add as many affiliates as they want, and the initial client call goes to a preferred vendor list. If none are available, then the request bounces to the open market.
LCT: How does iCars integrate into global distribution systems (GDS) and online booking tools (OBT)?
Shifrin: We are marketing iCars to corporate travel managers, hotels and third-party booking agents as their preferred app for traditional business travel. Also, our next development cycle will integrate Concur, then Sabre, and the other GDS players.
Regarding duty of care, iCars has a feature that allows a corporate travel executive to push a button to show all employees riding in iCars, and provide the ability to text or call an employee or driver if needed, such as in an emergency. That is one example of the features that respond to the safety issue of employees using mobile apps for business, in addition to all other standards, rules and regulations the limousine industry complies with to ensure passenger safety and security.
LCT: There is a mindset in the industry marketplace that an independent app is not the ultimate solution to our “Uber” challenge, and that only a network-based architecture will work. What is your view on this?
Shifrin: I respectfully disagree with any opinion that an app has to be a part of a larger eco-system or network. Most successful apps are stand alone apps that solve one problem. Examples of this include Uber and Lyft, and even the Facebook-created Messenger app. Moreover, with the advent of restful APIs (Application Program Interfaces) and ease of integrating into GDSs and OBTs, travel apps such as ours can quickly disseminate their information and provide connectivity and expense reporting to most corporations and travel agencies worldwide. In other words, the networks are already there.
Conversely, I believe and have heard others in the industry point out that apps offering too many options to users, through closed networks, confuse them.
LCT related item: iCars Presents Industry App Solution At GCLA Expo
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