October 2, 2023

Going the distance

Can new tech and a meeting of minds help capture that elusive first and last mile, asks Felicity Cousins

“I’ve been in the industry for a long time but I’m still very much bewildered by ground transportation,” admits Carol Fergus, Director Global Travel Meetings and Ground Transportation at Fidelity International.

“Ground Transport has always been a bit of a black hole,” says Jessica Banish, North America Leader, Strategic Sourcing, GE.

From modal choice between car rental, e-bikes, scooters, taxis and black car service to supplier and booking fragmentation, most buyers find ground transportation a bit of a headache.

The issue, says Fergus, is that nothing is gelling and everyone is going off and doing their own thing. “It is really stressful. So many things have changed. I think if ground transportation, TMCs and OBTs got together they could help with that,” she adds.

Guiding hand

Issues haven’t gone unnoticed by ITM and the GBTA, who have joined forces to create a Ground Transportation Working Group. It is producing a guide for ITM and GBTA buyer members when reviewing or building a ground strategy for their programme.

“The scope of ground transport has shifted to include multi-modal options not just the traditional rail, car hire and chauffeur drive, but ride-hailing and shared mobility such as e-scooters,” says Kerry Douglas, Head of Programme at ITM.

“Many travel buyers are looking for guidance as to the best way to incorporate all these ground transport modes into their travel programme.”

The guide will look at the ‘modal shift’ impacting ground transport today.

“It’s really stressful. So many things have changed. I think if ground transportation, TMCs and OBTs got together they could help with that”

Ben Park, Senior Director Procurement & Travel Parexel, says: “I think we are asking too much from the travellers on a modal shift in the current set up and it will result in them trying to do the right thing and getting frustrated. It is, and has always been, very fragmented, complex and difficult to centrally manage.”

GE’s Banish adds: “Some of the global solutions like Uber are easy to control at a global level, but the local problems still exist. That being said, there are forward-thinking apps like The Miles Consultancy’s Mobility iQ.”

The new “super app” MobilityIQ challenges what travellers do on autopilot (tapping Uber just because they always do) to make savvy choices (is it possible to walk or take a bike to avoid sitting in traffic?).

The app works like a fitbit for each mode of ground transport, collating data on all journeys for cost, carbon, calories (steps) and clock (time) and feeding that information to corporates, TMCs and travellers. That information can then be used to develop programmes to suit company culture. The second phase of the app’s launch is the booking tool.

President of Mobility, Stuart Donnelly, says: “We are building a booking tool that enables corporates to place preferred providers on the app. If they don’t value ride-hailing they won’t have it, and if they don’t want a lone female traveller taking a train at 22:00, that option won’t come up.”

Jyrney, which consolidates bookings for taxi, ride-hail and chauffeur rides on its platform and manages the data to work with TMCs, OBTs and GDSs, has just announced its partnership with TripStax. It says this is a game changer for the sector as TripStax uses a fully-connected modular stack of travel tech applications driven by a central data processing powerhouse known as The Core’, so all content is integrated.

Jyrney’s CEO, Daniel Price, says: “If you look at rail, air and hotel they all kind of sync with business travel technology, but ground transport isn’t really integrated even though it’s the connective tissue that holds everything together. The part we are working on now is integrating it all at the other end with expense management systems, TMCs’ tools and integration into TripStax. TakeTwo Travel Solutions is our first client with TripStax.”

TMCs, which have traditionally struggled to track that invisible spend, welcome this new technology. Rob Cope, TakeTwo Chief Technology Officer, says: “Working with partners like Jyrney consolidates content, allowing a much more frictionless booking experience. Focusing intensely on the ‘where’ something is booked (mobile app, OBT) and calibrating our technology and content … and connecting the booker, arranger and content in a more seamless way, there’s a disconnect across this process that can be bridged through technology.”

Behavioural shifts

With nearly 80% of travel programmes incorporating an agreement with a car rental company, it’s no wonder there is some focus over changing traveller behaviour. Post- pandemic there has been an increase in demand for long-term car rental as business travellers take longer trips, and one in five travel managers are now fleet managers too – adapting as technology enables a broader picture of business mobility.

Oliver Moore, Director of Travel Agency Sales EMEA at Enterprise, says: “Technology tools need to be policy-based and easy to use and we’re working to assist travel managers in building their knowledge quickly, to help them better understand how, why and where employees move around.”

Wider scope

With all companies setting ESG goals to be carbon neutral by 2030-2045, the last mile is a huge consideration for Scope 3 emissions.

Parexel’s Park says: “You have to reduce the emissions generated massively.

“There is no choice and this is hard to do because if you jump into a regular cab, next in line, how can you influence if it’s electric? It’s not easy to be green but it’s not an option. We need to go in this direction, but also need to make it easier for travellers to make greener decisions.”

“Rail, air, hotel – they all kind of synch with business travel technology, but ground transport isn’t really integrated even though it’s the connective tissue”

In another sustainability move, in January FREE NOW launched its Mobility Benefits Card, which is a virtual prepaid card allowing users to choose the mode of transport, even if it’s not on the FREE NOW app, via the budget provided as a benefit by their employer.

FREE NOW Team Lead for UK & Ireland, Kristina Stapulionyte, says: “We launched it to help travel managers. People started to come back to offices after Covid so it was an employee benefit to use across public transport. If you are going to the office twice a week you don’t need a private car.”

If company culture requires a more sleek approach, chauffeurs are still on call. Blacklane has watched the ride hailing trend closely and changes in behaviour have pushed it to diversify to on-demand services. The first location is Dubai, followed by New York

Modal shift, centralisation, collaboration – new technology can solve it all but it’s wise to remember ground transport is an interpersonal experience.

“Ride hailing is great and everyone followed Uber and focussed on the technology, but now anyone with some pyjamas and a car could turn up,” says Fidelity’s Fergus.

New technology may be a boon, but the first and last mile also needs the human touch – with or without pyjamas!