Operations

iCARS Deepens Reach Into Business Travel Space

Martin Romjue
Posted on November 16, 2016

iCARS president Ed Silver with founder and CEO Gary Bauer and the iCARS San Francisco-based team at the company headquarters (all photos by Norman Lau via iCARS)
iCARS president Ed Silver with founder and CEO Gary Bauer and the iCARS San Francisco-based team at the company headquarters (all photos by Norman Lau via iCARS)
The chauffeured-ride technology start-up iCARS does not easily fit into typical categories. It’s not solely an on-demand app, nor a street-level Uber or Lyft, nor an affiliate network. It’s not a sedan service with lots of metal on the ground.

As the chauffeured reservation app moves into more cities, it’s redefining itself through on-demand, near-demand, future reservations, affiliate participation, and customized fleet management.

Founder and owner Gary Bauer stresses iCARS centers on business travel. “We are more of a business-to-business player,” he says. “We’re an aggregator like Orbitz or Travelocity and drive business to you. Other ride apps are B2C.”

Bauer envisions a global network with hundreds of cities offering near demand rides (10-30 minutes), on-demand rides (3-10 minutes), and future reservations. He is positioning iCARS to attract corporate and business travel clients, including big companies.

iCARS plans to roll out first to the top 25 cities for business travel, President Ed Silver says. So far, iCARS circulates in the San Francisco Bay Area, Austin, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, and Las Vegas. “We want to grow where corporate travel business is the highest,” Silver says. “The cities we are in and the order of our growth are those most important to corporate clients.”

Revenue Driver
iCARS is positioned as a tech platform that acts as a marketing engine to drive traffic to operators. It serves mostly corporations, hotels, and VIPs.

“When we say primarily B2B, we mean the sales channels are B2B,” Silver says. “We do the marketing at trade shows, events, and wherever corporate travel professionals are. When we sign up a corporation, instead of it being one phone call or one transaction to one consumer, it’s a one-to-many relationship. They then deploy the application to the entire employee base.”

While iCARS focuses on the B2B market, it is available for B2C use among corporate clients and the public. “Any passenger interested in using the app who finds out about it through work or advertisements is welcome to download it without contractual terms,” Silver says.

New Leadership
Silver joined iCARS this year after working seven years as the senior vice president of operations at the Global Business Travel Association. He draws upon his experience to help tailor iCARS to the corporate business travel world.

“Our product continues to develop and mature in specific ways needed by clients,” Silver says. “We understand the mindset of corporate travel managers and design products that help them grow their programs.”

Knowing what’s important to travel managers and the sales methods they prefer helps iCARS generate more rides for its member operators. The corporate travel sector puts a premium on duty-of-care, defined as “the legal obligation of a person or organization to avoid acts or omissions (that can be reasonably foreseen) to be likely to cause harm to others.” Unlike the mass-market on-demand ride apps, iCARS was designed and built with strict duty-of-care protocols in mind.

Duty Of Care
The fulcrum of duty-of-care rests with the professionalism of the chauffeur or driver, which has become a major concern given the numerous assaults, criminal incidents, and boorish behavior of Uber X drivers.

To vet its chauffeurs, iCARS requires fingerprint background checks along with its own extensive background check program, random drug testing, and all legal driver’s and livery licenses. Customer service systems automatically provide feedback on the quality of rides and speed of responses. iCARS also does drop-in inspections of partnering vehicle providers.

“We have a lot of automation to make sure we consistently refresh and check on the network,” Silver says. “More than anything, we use technology to watch for signs and signals of problems.

“Part of our unique selling proposition is we think it matters who picks you up and what kind of cars your employees or executives are driven in,” Silver says. “They expect a certain level of service, safety and security. That’s what we make sure we deliver.”

To that end, iCARS vehicles all are covered by large liability amounts. It requires a minimum $1 million insurance policy per vehicle from providers, but many come into the network above that level. The company provides a rider in addition to the base amount, ranging from a minimum of $5 million to $25 million, depending on the corporation, type of vehicle(s), and number of passengers.

Ed Silver and Gary Bauer are leading a major rollout of iCARS' high-quality chauffeured transportation B2B platform to Los Angeles and New York City in 2017 (photo by Norman Lau)
Ed Silver and Gary Bauer are leading a major rollout of iCARS' high-quality chauffeured transportation B2B platform to Los Angeles and New York City in 2017 (photo by Norman Lau)
Rates & Technology
iCARS structures its rates based either on time and distance, or hourly. Corporate clients can negotiate point-to-point rates. “The system is quite flexible on how it can be configured,” Silver says. “A base is set for each city.”

Its unique technology allows for varied rates, depending on market forces. The in-house team of iCARS engineers developed the proprietary tech infrastructure. They report directly to Silver, who brings experience in tech start-ups. He founded Lodging.com, a competitor to Hotels.com.

To sign up, operators simply enter information on their companies, chauffeurs, insurance, training, and background checks. iCARS then evaluates the transportation providers, with most approvals coming within 24 hours. Once approved, a provider can log in to the iCARS system and create a profile with the help of iCARS managers who can build their accounts. Drivers do not need to log in to the web portal, but only need to download the app so they can receive rides.

Custom Networks
The iCARS platform allows transportation providers to control their availability and access, Bauer explains. They determine their available time frames, distances, and number and types of fleet vehicles available to the iCARS network. Providers can figure out how much of their business they want to derive from iCARS and what downtime to fill.

The system enables providers to see completed rides, total mileages, and revenue. They can take vehicles and/or drivers in or out of the system, preview advanced reservations, and either block specific drivers from, or assign ones to, certain clients or passengers.

If a provider wants to bring accounts onto the iCARS platform, it can put them in a closed network to ensure it always gets the reservations. Providers also may temporarily open a closed network if they need more vehicles in real time. Likewise, a provider can invite its local affiliates into its closed, customized network on the iCARS platform.

“You can transfer your entire local affiliate network onto iCARS,” Silver says. “They have to go through the same process as the transportation provider, and once invited, are then able to farm out reservations to you.”

Silver underscores the quality of drivers does not vary among open or closed networks, since invited affiliates must meet the same criteria as providers. Drivers are paid via direct deposit on the 1st and 15th day of the each month.

Limo Logistics
Providers also may choose to transfer out of their back office software and move all booking and fleet management onto the iCARS platform, thereby making it a one-stop shop. “They can access the iCARS network, and book and manage their reservations from one location,” Silver says.

“The key here is choice. The most important news is that we can now integrate into whatever dispatch system they use, and that drives business for everyone,” Silver says.

Where Is My Driver?
Before GPS connectivity, operators risked clients and bookers alike asking, “Where’s my driver?” The platform includes live GPS tracking of drivers and their availability. iCARS ensures the question can always be answered via its portal.

From a corporate standpoint, iCARS clients may book pre-selected, recurrent airport transfers and/or point-to-point destinations remembered and assigned by the system to avoid repeat, rote entries from booking agents and travel managers.

Clients or their representatives can get access via laptops, tablets, or smartphones to see rider locations in real time, driver information, and future destinations, reservations, and ETAs. “The traveler’s entire ground itinerary is never more than a few clicks or taps away,” Silver says. “The system can track every step of where a passenger is going. Someone is constantly watching the routes being taken.”

Confirmations, receipts, and reservations can be downloaded by client travel agents, who may add legs to trips or modify itineraries. This makes multiple point-to-point trips, one-time pick-ups and drop-offs, and undetermined as-directed/wait-time runs all possible and interchangeable, depending on the needs of the client.

iCARS enjoys the collaborative environment of a SF Bay Area start-up tech firm (Norman Lau)
iCARS enjoys the collaborative environment of a SF Bay Area start-up tech firm (Norman Lau)
FASTFACTS: iCARS

  • Location: San Francisco
  • Founded: 2015
  • Owner: Gary Bauer, CEO, also owner/CEO of Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation
  • Services: On-demand and near-demand corporate chauffeured vehicles
  • Cities online: San Francisco, San Jose/Silicon Valley, Oakland/East Bay, Austin, Houston, Dallas, Chicago and Las Vegas; (Los Angeles and Philadelphia to come in 4Q).
  • Participating partners: about 1,500 companies and sole proprietors
  • Vehicles in network: 6,000
  • Vehicle types: Mercedes-Benz GLS, Cadillac Escalade ESV, Chevrolet Suburban, Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedans, BMW 5- and 7-Series sedans, Cadillac XTS and CT6 sedans, Tesla Model S sedans, and Lincoln-Continental sedans.
  • Executives: Ed Silver, President; Gary Schwartz, CFO
  • Employees: 40
  • Annual revenues: N/A, but estimated YoY growth of 300%
  • Compensation ratio: 85% to provider; 15% to iCARS (gratuities passed through)
  • Client sample: United Airlines, Fairmont Hotels, Starwood, Zenga
  • Website: www.icars.cc

Related Topics: apps, California operators, entrepreneurship, Gary Bauer, iCars, mobile technology, San Francisco operators, startup, vehicle apps

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