Business Logistics

Why Uber won't crack the corporate market anytime soon

This is a contributed piece by John McCallion, CEO of GroundScope

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’.  Credit to the company. Despite all of the controversy that surrounds it, it has provided consumers with exactly what they want; cheap, easy ground transportation in a few swipes of their smartphone.

With such an impressive record so far, some industry commentators are starting to ask whether Uber might just revolutionise the corporate travel market too. After all, 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.

However, as someone whose business is arranging ground transportation for companies globally, I don’t believe Uber – in its current guise at least – has what it takes to crack the corporate travel market. As a service it falls woefully short in a number of different areas that are critical for any company booking taxis for its employees or its guests.

No advanced booking

The majority of corporate travellers need to know that their taxi will be outside with the engine running five minutes before pick-up time. If you’re heading off to catch a 6.30am flight or to join an important client meeting, the prospect of pulling out your iPhone and requesting an Uber definitely gets the nerves jangling –will there be a ride nearby, willing to take your fare?  Worse, a recent stat revealed that 20% of Uber drivers are ‘no-shows’.

Poorly screened drivers

A few weeks ago The Guardian revealed just how unsophisticated and unreliable Uber’s process for screening drivers is. Last week, Uber was forced to suspend a driver who allegedly threatened to ‘cut the throat’ of a passenger that cancelled her ride at short notice. With duty of care such an important responsibility for companies everywhere, the recent string of scandals surrounding poorly vetted drivers are enough to dissuade corporates from embracing Uber.

Variable quality

Anyone that uses Uber regularly acknowledges that the quality of cars – cleanliness, comfort, amenities – varies wildly depending on the driver. Some will pick you up in a lovely, air-conditioned motor and offer you a bottle of water. Others will have litter on the floor and the seats, and the radio blaring at a high volume. Would you book a ride for your top executives or a customer if you weren’t sure of the quality of service you were buying?

Meeting and greeting

Personally, I find there’s nothing better than walking into an arrivals hall at a major international airport and seeing a friendly taxi driver waiting with a sign saying ‘Mr McCallion’. It makes me feel safe and secure, particularly if it is a new city or country. It also means I can immediately relax, check my emails, confident in the knowledge that my taxi driver knows where I’m going. Uber’s lack of a meet and greet service is another factor that will stop it excelling in the business travel market.

I spend most of my week in meetings with experienced travel managers, and I often raise the Uber question. Anecdotally, it’s fascinating just how few of them feel Uber is a viable option for their ground transportation needs. Although many of them are happy to ‘Uber it’ at the weekends while out with friends or family, when it comes to booking travel on behalf of their organisation Uber doesn’t factor into their thinking.

However, while I don’t believe the future of ground transport for business is Uber, I do think it will drive up standards right across the corporate travel market. All local taxi firms should be focused on bringing together the ‘best bits of Uber’ - its competitive pricing and simple user interface - with the professionalism and ‘white glove’ service that is their differentiator. With so much innovation in the sector at the moment, ground transport providers can’t afford to rest on their laurels. 


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