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Shuttle work makes up about three-fifths of total revenue for Moe Ahmed, owner of MA Limousine & Transportation Worldwide near San Francisco. He’s found some solid approaches to this niche market and how operators breaking into it can make a name for themselves among corporate clients.
Make no mistake: Getting into the shuttle business is a big investment. You need to analyze your numbers to make sure it’s a good move for you. “It’s rough, especially at first because you are putting a lot of money out there and it can be months before you start to see a return on it,” Ahmed says. “I think that was the hardest part when we first started. But if you can hold out, it’s worth it. The only way to grow is by trying new things outside of your comfort zone.”
He also warns other operators this is not something you can do alone. Without a talented, supportive team backing you up, the service falls apart. “There are so many unplanned obstacles that pop up and you need people who can think on their feet and are willing to go the extra mile for you and your company,” he says.
Emelia VandenHoek, his operations manager, has stepped up and taken care of most daily aspects of his business. “With her running the office, I can trust things are in good hands and am able to stay focused on growing and finding new clients.”
The company runs 11 shuttles, nine vans, and two motorcoaches, with more on the way. The shuttle passenger capacities range from 23 to 44; the vans from nine to 16; and the motorcoaches are either 55- or 56-passenger. “We love our Grech Ford Freightliner shuttle buses. In my opinion, nothing compares to the quality and craftsmanship Grech puts into their vehicles, and with us, they have earned a lifelong customer,” he says. MA’s vans are a mix of Mercedes Sprinters and Ford Transits, and their motorcoaches are Setra and Prevost.
Making Your Move
MA is lucky enough to operate in the heart of Silicon Valley. The company is surrounded by a plethora of businesses that believe in having their employees share rides, and are trying to be part of the solution to reduce their carbon footprints.
Some of Ahmed’s clients include Google and other tech companies, global media companies, property management companies, and a few of the many colleges in the area. The first shuttle account they got was for a property management company down the street from their offices. It was a big complex that held several tech and bio-tech companies.
“I used to see buses driving by all the time and dreamed about having an account like that one day,” Ahmed says. “I finally worked up the nerve to go talk to someone there and just kept following up until the contract was up for bid. We turned in our RFP and won the account. After a few months of providing employee shuttle service for them, they were so happy with us they started referring us to other companies in the area. Once we realized this was an area we could easily excel in, we jumped in with both feet and started going after accounts on our own.”
Maintaining Customer Satisfaction
One of the most important ways to keep your shuttle clients happy is by providing amenities they need the most, Ahmed says. WiFi and power outlets are mandatory. Since they are mostly transporting employees, this means clients are constantly working — even on their way to the office.
“We have to make sure they can count on us for their transportation to and from work to be a seamless continuation of the office,” he says. “Most of our buses also have seat back tables and a few full-sized tables. This is just another way we try to plan ahead for our clients. We figure the workday is long enough. If we can shave off even a few minutes by allowing them to get more done, then we are giving people back valuable time in their lives for more important things, like friends and family.”
Unlike traditional shuttle companies, luxury transportation operators offer a higher standard of customer service. MA’s chauffeurs go through rigorous training to make sure safety and service always come first. “All of our chauffeurs are cross-trained in retail and shuttle accounts. That way, if someone calls in sick, we always have a backup who knows what they are doing,” he says.
To ensure logistics run smoothly, they have GPS in all of their vehicles and a personalized app for each shuttle account. Any of the passengers can log in at any time to see the location of a bus along its route.
“This has saved us so many phone calls from people wondering where the vehicle is, and it also makes us accountable to them,” Ahmed says. “Our chauffeurs know they have to be on top of their game. Since a lot of our employee shuttles are picking up at train or other public transit stations, we have alerts set to notify us if a train is behind schedule. Then we can get ahead of the issue and let the clients know, many times before they even know themselves, which always makes people happy.”
It’s Okay To Say No
Ahmed has learned during the course of doing shuttle work that it’s okay to say no. When MA was getting ready to start its first shuttle account, it already used two shuttles for retail and affiliate work. They were on a timeline to begin the new account with three buses in about a month, and were waiting to get the new vehicles finalized and in their possession.
They got a call from a client looking to book a group, which was set to begin the same week their new shuttle account would start. It looked like a fairly easy, good group, but they had a low budget and the booking agent acted high-maintenance. Ahmed agreed and adjusted his prices to make it work.
Come time for their new account to start, there was a hiccup in the timeline for the new buses to arrive and they ended up having to farm the group and use their retail buses for their shuttle account. “In the end, we ended up losing money and dealing with the stress of trying to run a high-maintenance group through an affiliate. From that experience, we learned sometimes it’s okay to say no,” he explains.
“I think it’s easy for operators to feel like we have to say yes to every opportunity that comes our way, but sometimes it’s alright to pass the opportunity along to someone else,” Ahmed says. “We are lucky to have a close network of local affiliates we work with and trust here. On the one hand, we are all competitors, but if you only look at it that way, you are bound to fail. We are all a team and need to be able to work together. I have had other affiliates pass groups on to me and I have referred people to other affiliates as well. You have to know what you can handle.”
“When we got into employee shuttles, we really didn’t know the kind of impact it would have on us or our business. As we got more involved, it was really shocking for us to see just how many people we were taking to and from work. It’s rewarding to know we’re doing our part for the environment to get hundreds of vehicles off of the road every day. In the Bay Area, there are so many influential companies paving the way for our future. We feel lucky to be driving the people driving our country.” - Moe Ahmed, owner of MA Limousine & Transportation Worldwide
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