Uber: let’s talk taxis…

THE EVENT, AT THE SOHO HOTEL IN LONDON, saw senior executives from the app-based taxi service field questions and address buyers’ concerns around implementing Uber into a travel programme. The event, held in the hotel’s special screening room, saw discussions around travel policy, duty-of-care, IT integration, future trends and corporate social responsibility (CSR).

BBT editor Paul Revel opened the event, saying Uber’s growth is reflected in the column inches it has amassed –the brand is mentioned in more than 90 articles on the BBT website. He then welcomed the Uber execs to tell the room how the service could impact on their travel programme.

They talked about how “employees now expect business travel to match their personal experience”, as well as new innovations being rolled out globally, such as a panic button that alerts local authorities to an emergency, and addressing other issues around costs and safety.

The team also showcased their reporting dashboard, which they said will help buyers “gain visibility and control” over usage. Travel managers can see where and when employees are ‘riding’, with cost/ project codes added to each journey. The dashboard lets buyers set policies around time and location to “ensure only in-policy rides are taken”. The team also explained how it enables travellers to schedule rides 30 days in advance of a trip, as well as central payment methods for expenses.

The second half of the event gave buyers the opportunity to quiz Uber in the Q&A session. The questions were fielded by Tom Elvidge and Lewis Turek from Uber for Business, and one of the key topics was safety concerns.

One buyer asked about restrictions on drivers’ working hours. Turek explained:

“We don’t have a maximum guideline because, in London and most UK cities, drivers can work for multiple operators, so it wouldn’t be appropriate to enforce an arbitrary limit.

“We regularly remind drivers to take breaks and make sure they don’t drive when they’re tired. If we get reports that drivers are tired, then, in extreme circumstances, we end our partnership with them.”

He said the average Uber driver works 28 hours a week and they are independent, very much like black cab drivers.

Uber also confirmed that all drivers have to provide valid insurance documents, and are automatically disconnected from the platform if insurance expires. Uber for Business corporate contracts add another global layer of insurance should there be any issues with an individual driver’s insurance provider.

COST COMPARISON

Another major concern for buyers was around cost and savings, and comparisons with other ground transport providers. One buyer said it was important their company had agreed corporate rates, and “was this something Uber could offer?”

Elvidge said: “At the moment, no, as the Uber model has always been an estimated fare for the journey. However, this is the number one request we receive from busi-nesses and is something we are looking extensively at.”

He added that although Uber cannot provide fixed rates for journeys, its “accurate” fare estimates prove a ride to be on average 30-38 per cent cheaper than other providers.

Another buyer had questions around surge pricing, why it exists and the added cost this could put on a programme. Elvidge said: “Surge pricing exists because we believe the most important thing as a passenger is the ability to get somewhere when you want, but when demand outweighs supply the fare increases to bring more drivers on to the platform and into the area so the demand can be taken up.”

But he said being able to limit the impact of surging is up for discussion when ne-gotiating individual corporate contracts with buyers.

One buyer raised concerns about the consistency of standards: “How do you control the standard and levels of cars globally? Will the service in India be the same as the UK?”

Turek said: “In different cities we have different vehicle types, largely dependent on what vehicles are available. We have a published list of what car is acceptable in each city so in London our [high-end] Uber Executive service has to be 2014 or newer, and vehicles such as a Mercedes E-Class or BMW 5-Series.”

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Over the past couple of years Uber has been in the headlines, with some drivers taking legal steps against the company over workers’ rights, as well as the ongoing battles with traditional taxi drivers.

Buyers wanted to know about the company’s CSR credentials and some of the negative press it had received.

Turek said Uber took its social re¬sponsibility extremely seriously. “Since we launched in the UK we have gone from zero drivers to 40,000. They use the service to make money on their own terms. We don’t set shifts or mandate on where they want to work. They really value that flexibility. The average payments to a driver are £16 an hour – after the fee to Uber.

“Another plan, that’s come from the top, is to engage with more female drivers in a traditionally-male dominated environment – the target is one million by 2018.”

The firm launched Uber Central last year – one person can book multiple cars to arrive at the same time for large group pick-ups. And the Uber team also confirmed it is talking to several global distribution system (GDS) suppliers to bring content on to those platforms, and spoke about contracts they have in place with airlines, including British Airways and KLM.

Turek said: “In the 2000s we saw the con¬sumerisation of IT. Now we are starting to see the consumerisation of business travel.

“It’s very hard to stop your travellers going to BA direct rather than the GDS, but it’s not hard to stop people from using Uber, as you can introduce a solution on the app that switches between their personal account and business account.

“We want to make transportation as reliable as running water.”

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