Operations

Taking The Lead(s) From Uber

Martin Romjue
Posted on January 3, 2018
Chauffeur? Driver? He could be both, legally and independently (LCT file image)
Chauffeur? Driver? He could be both, legally and independently (LCT file image)

By now we should be overly familiar with the scandals and shortfalls of Uber. The transportation network company (TNC) has endured its worst year so far as it fails on many fronts.

One controversial failure is how Uber classifies its drivers as independent contractors. As any number of industry leaders and operators point out, Uber tries to have it both ways; considering drivers as I/Os, but treating them in many ways like employees. The courts are working that issue out; for the record, I support a decision where Uber has to follow the exact same labor and wage rules as chauffeured, chartered, and taxicab operations.

Back To Black
Over the last few months, I’ve gotten to know an Uber Black driver who is also a legal, licensed independent limo operator. Before any readers explode on me, I should explain that in California Uber falls into a strict caste system between UberX drivers and below, the most frequently used tiers of Uber, and those who drive as part of the Black-SUV-Lux service levels. The former are “Joe-Blows” with Corollas. The latter are licensed charter party carriers with TCP numbers issued by the California Public Utilities Commission. Many are either one car operators or chauffeurs who are doing Uber runs at varying percentages of their revenue streams or work hours. If you take Uber Black or above in California, you are supporting limo operations as much as the TNC. (Yes, a moral dilemma).

This independent driver I know works both modes. When he’s on Uber, he’s available to anyone. When off the system, he’s taking regular chauffeured limo runs and reservations from clients as part of his business. He drives a Suburban and uses an e-tablet for payments with options to add tips. In a supposedly “independent” scenario, there’s nothing wrong with a driver offering his services when off the Uber clock.

Using Uber as a way to develop customer leads is not only a good way to clap back at the two-timing TNC, but helps lead riders “into” the superior world of luxury ground transportation.

I’ll leave the moral fairness debate over Uber to the courts, regulators, and operators. But there are some takeaways from this operational scenario that offer some vital lessons for industry survival.

Two Tiers: Text Run Vs. Res Run
$70 vs. $110
e-tip vs. pre-tip
one-stop vs. the shop
grab your bags
vs. bags handled
curbside vs. parking area

Texted & Trusted
The advantages this one-car provider offers are one-touch-stop convenience and a personal connection. You cannot beat the ease of texting or e-mailing a friendly, familiar chauffeur your pick-up info after seeing if he is available. Nor do you ever have to carry cash since post-ride tipping is truly optional with electronic choices ranging from 10% to 25%. Soon after a card is swiped, an e-receipt lands in the inbox. This operator charges on average $70 for an airport run, exclusive of tip, whereas a typical traditional chauffeured company will charge $110 gratuity included.

The main difference is in the airport pick-up. The one-car operator texts back and forth after a client lands to see about luggage status and then pulls up at the curb a few minutes later. Granted, no one is available to help you with your bags in the carousel areas. But then you don’t have to walk out to a parking deck. Some clients nowadays prefer not to be greeted with a name sign since — let’s be honest — in a politicized haves-have-not class atmosphere, they don’t want to risk being stared at as “that rich guy getting picked up.”

Pros & Cons
When I presented this ride situation to a Driving Results group of operators visiting our company last month, they saw the appeal of the tech-based convenience and personal service. But several of the operators quickly spotted some disadvantages: What if your driver is not available — does he have an affiliate? What if his SUV breaks down — could someone jump in and still handle the ride? What if a client, especially a family with kids, really needs help with luggage — would he come into the airport?

Those are all relevant points that underscore the continued need for high-end chauffeured service. The overall picture proves luxury transportation operations should develop a tier system that meets changing client preferences. In addition to full-on chauffeured services, offer a service tier best described as one-on-one, text-to-curb. The client(s) simply deals with one person they know and want best: The chauffeur/driver. With all the instant technology, texts can be duplicated, forwarded, and converted to reservation records at a company’s base.

Operators should empower their more trusted, trained, outgoing, and experienced chauffeurs to take text requests and schedule runs for clients at value price points. Such a simple, secure approach will always best what the TNCs offer. It’s time to gut and outsmart Uber with the tech-driven ways it pretends are so unique to them. Customers are waiting.

 

Related Topics: chauffeur behavior, customer service, driver behavior, editor, employee vs independent contractor, Martin Romjue, on-demand service, online reservations, smartphone reservations, text messaging, TNCs, Uber, UberX

Martin Romjue Editor
Comments ( 1 )
  • Seth

     | about 8 months ago

    asterRIDE connects limo companies with passengers who want the ease of using apps and or by calling and emailing us. Chauffeurs today text passengers under the guidance that new trips must go through reservations. They know that if they go around a limo company that a limo company will not engage with them further and in the big picture will lose out. Of course, there are rogue chauffeurs that will be short sighted and eventually lose the trust of the industry they operate. Just like in any business, there are some good IO's using Uber but the best model for quality and reliability is through a limo operator like the ones we partner with (Windy City, Premier of Dallas, and many more).

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