Managing director of ground transport firm Groundscope John McCallion questions whether Uber, despite its phenomenal growth, can transfer that success into the business travel industry
Just like Hoover and Google before it, Uber is now so popular and mainstream that it has been turned into a verb. You can’t go anywhere in London today without hearing the phrase ‘I’ll Uber it’.
Yet when many of London’s commuters tried to do just that during the recent tube strikes, they found themselves facing a fare hike three-times higher than the original fee. Given Uber’s supply and demand model, “surge pricing” is a regular feature during peak times, however with a minimum fare of £14.50 during rush hour last week, many felt that Uber were simply taking advantage of a bad situation.
Naturally, Uber has once again come under fire for this with users taking to social channels to vent about how ripped-off they felt when needing the service most.
While Uber might have changed the face of how consumers use cheap, easy ground transportation – this latest behaviour will not lend the company any favours with business travellers who need a reliable service to get them from A to B in a timely and cost effective fashion.
As Transport For London (TFL) has hinted that another tube strike could be underway in August, it’s probably safe to say that many business travellers will be steering away from Uber when that time comes.
With the rise of Uber in the past year, industry commentators have asked the question as to whether Uber would revolutionise the corporate travel market in addition to the consumer market. If a business traveller loves using Uber in his or her personal life, why wouldn’t they instinctively reach for the app while on a business trip in London? They will save their company some money, and avoid the hassle of finding a cab locally.
I don’t believe Uber – in its current guise at least – has what it takes to crack the corporate travel market. There are a number of areas in which Uber falls short of what corporate travellers expect from a ground transport provider:
- The lack of an advanced booking service will put off the majority of corporate travellers, who need to be sure that their taxi will be ready at 6.30 am with their engine running to get them to a flight or an important meeting on time.
- The unsophisticated process for screening drivers – exposed by The Guardian last week – also means that travel managers and HR teams will discourage their staff from using Uber owing to potential duty of care concerns.
- The quality of an Uber car varies from driver to driver. If you are a PA booking a car for an executive, or even an employee jumping in a taxi with a client, you don’t want to ride in a messy car with a dirty interior, or a badly dressed, unpresentable driver.
- Most business travellers also value a ‘meet and greet’ service when they are being picked up by a driver at an airport arrivals hall , as it helps them to get from A to B quickly and provides reassurance in a new city. Uber doesn’t offer this.
- Business travellers need to make immediate contact with a real person if there meeting runs on or they have a change of plan.
The future of ground transport for businesses isn’t Uber. Rather, it’s finding ways to bring the best bits of Uber – it’s about providing competitive pricing and simple user interface – together with the professionalism and ‘white glove’ service that the best taxi firms can deliver, all at a competitive price.
John McCallion is a founding stakeholder in the Groundscope business. He has a substantial corporate commercial and marketing background gained with leading retailers including Pepsi Co and Marks & Spencer. John is a business management and marketing graduate and holds a post graduate diploma in marketing from Westminster University.