Operations

Driving Riders To Safer Choices

Martin Romjue
Posted on February 2, 2019
How do you engage them toward safer ground transportation? (Pexels photo by rawpixel)
How do you engage them toward safer ground transportation? (Pexels photo by rawpixel)

If I had to choose the most vexing challenge for this industry, it would be the continuing public devotion to transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber. In early January, a Kalamazoo, Mich., driver pleaded guilty to murdering six people between Uber runs. The media has reported about Uber drivers committing one criminal incident and crudity after another for years. You would think that’s enough, yet the app keeps getting tapped. What will it take to break through with the safety messages?

If the same ratio and variety of bad actions and safety threats were happening at Disney theme parks, attendance would be near zero, as no sane parent would tolerate such risks. No hitting the fast pass app.  

I question the free market economic bromide that consumers are inherently rational. No, they are often emotional, and sometimes gullible and clueless. Otherwise, hucksters, scams, and fads would vanish. I understand the arguments about cost and convenience for using TNCs, but it doesn’t add up when you look at consumer behavior overall.

People willingly now drop $129 for a basic one-day ticket at Disneyland, and then another $15 for use of an app to reserve rides, plus a $25 parking fee. You could go through endless stats on what people spend on leisure, travel, and entertainment, such as streaming subscriptions, video games, and concert tickets (A front section seat in Los Angeles for the upcoming KISS tour is $900 per person). And don’t get me started on the budding market for legal cannabis, with users paying inflated prices driven by the usual government regulatory costs. Just picture a stoner accepting whatever surge rate for an Uber Eats delivery, but that’s another story.
As I discovered when I joined LCT, the year before Uber launched, a chauffeured ride in many markets doesn’t cost much more than a taxicab, and now may be slightly less than during TNC rate surges. So what gives?

My Limousine Service's Howard Gogel. (photo: Gogel)
My Limousine Service's Howard Gogel. (photo: Gogel)
I spoke recently on this subject with a member of the modern limousine industry’s first generation, Howard Gogel, who started My Limousine Service Inc. of East Hanover, N.J., in 1983, the year LCT published its first issue. He’s been to about every LCT show since, including the first one in Atlantic City, N.J., in 1984. He still runs 145 vehicles and serves on the board of directors of the Limousine Association of New Jersey, and is executive director of Be Safe Rides (besaferides.com).

Gogel cut to the chase: The luxury transportation industry has the technology, but not the fleet capacity. Operators are also going up against a growing consumer public acclimated to “instant gratification syndrome” of wanting it all now. “Push a button and a car shows up within seven minutes about anywhere in the world.”
“I blame the public as well as the government,” Gogel says. “The government has to require Uber, Lyft, and the apps to follow the same regulations as limo operations.”

He doesn’t believe Uber and Lyft would fold if their overhead costs matched those of safer established  ground transportation providers that obey the laws, nor would the public completely abandon them. But at least their cheaper rates advantage would vanish and more riders  could consider better options in the same price range, such as chauffeured car service.

Media Strategy 2.0

Until the government and courts collectively level the regulatory playing field, what more could be done? Gogel cites the Be Safe Rides (besaferides.com) and the NLA Ride Responsibly (rideresponsibily.org) efforts, which spell out the differences between TNCs and legal, licensed ground transportation. We’ve all seen the Pamela Anderson-themed ads and PSAs, along with media interviews by industry leaders. Those are all a solid start, but I wonder how the industry and its allies could project positions and messages further in a maxi-media environment:

• Viral persuasion: Use popular, young social media influencers to get the safe rides message out: Gens Y and Z would listen and pay attention to celebrities with huge Twitter and Instagram followings. Social media exposure and advertising would carry the widest reach.
• Political-style advertising: TV and radio ads might stray into the scary and the negative, but that approach suits the current culture. Stories of horror and outrage about TNC accident and assault victims would resonate with a naive public. There’s nothing wrong with good old fear if rooted in facts.
• Billboards: They’re everywhere and everyone sees them. I think of the ones along the freeways advertising personal injury lawyers and lawsuit mills. With clever slogans and dramatic images, billboards communicate to captive 24/7 audiences of drivers (presuming they aren’t texting).
• Airline seat screens: The same concept applies to ground transportation safety awareness ads that could run right after all those credit card commercials and before the movies start on airline flights.
• Campus education: The ways of reaching college and high school audiences abound in analog and digital ways. In the era of #MeToo, where are the campus protests against boorish Uber driver behavior and an “evil corporate culture?”
• Hashtags: Just like #MeToo or any heavily trafficked tag, social media monikers focused on TNC outrages and bad rider experiences would gain traction.
 
A more intense education, media, and awareness campaign on TNCs could succeed. Many of us in Gen X came of age during the era of anti-drunk driving warnings, Just Say No messages, and safe sex education. I saw a bloody drunk driving accident video in high school and sat through a graphic (and silly) safe sex session in college. The key words are “bloody” and “graphic.” Sharp, insightful communication can disrupt the most entrenched of public habits and views. All of these campaigns earned wide play and serious attention. Now, it’s time to pursue powerful ways to promote “safe travels.”

Related Topics: building your clientele, client markets, ground transportation, innovative marketing, LCT editor, marketing/promotions, Martin Romjue, media, National Limousine Association, New Jersey operators, passenger safety, public relations, Ride Responsibly, Safety, TNCs, Uber

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