Travellers should be protected at all stages of a work trip, so are you paying close enough attention to who's driving them around, asks Bev Fearis
“We have experts there who will spend an hour talking to our drivers about how to open a door for a passenger – no kidding,” says Blacklane CEO and Co-Founder, Dr Jens Wohltorf, referring to the training academy the chauffeur specialist opened in London earlier this year.
Course modules teach the art of chauffeur driving down to the finest detail, from how to dress and keep cars pristinely clean to how to accelerate or brake more smoothly.
“But, crucially, our drivers also learn how to read the state of their guests’ minds. They need to recognise if their guest is in the mood to be chatty, or if they’re going to an important meeting and need some quiet time to focus, or perhaps to prepare themselves for a meeting they’re feeling anxious about. Our drivers must learn emotional intelligence,” explains Wohltorf.
Indeed, it’s difficult to think of any other element of a business trip where your travellers are in such close proximity to the person responsible for their wellbeing and safety. Whether they’re going to the airport or to a meeting, or being driven home, exhausted, after a long-haul flight, your travellers will be in the company of, and in the hands of, one person who can have a major impact on their welfare.
“Our drivers will live and breathe every moment of their guests’ experience, from the moment they greet them and open the door,” says Wohltorf.
“Passengers might want to listen to music or they might not, they might want to chat about a successful meeting or make a private call. Our drivers need to be able to adapt to all of these scenarios.”
A report by mobility app FREENOW concluded that taxi drivers, particularly during the Covid pandemic, have become “unsung therapists” for communities.
Its research, published as the pandemic lockdowns eased, showed that 20% of Brits have shared their personal struggles with their driver and at least 68% of drivers said they have had a passenger bring up their mental health during a ride.
Lack of control
So, with drivers having so much responsibility, why do so many organisations fail to make taxis and transfers part of their travel programme or policy, instead leaving it to their employees to book and pay for their own journeys, often with local operators that neither side know anything about?
“While organisations are careful to vet hotels and manage their travellers’ flying experience, often travellers are left to their own devices to organise the first or last part of their trip,” says Carolyn Pearson, Founder and CEO of travel safety specialist Maiden Voyage. “Whilst they are in control of how they do that, the company still has to comply with its duty of care obligations.”
“While organisations are careful to vet hotels and manage their travellers’ flying experience, often travellers are left to their own devices to organise the first and last part of their trip”
She shares the experience of one female business traveller who used a local mini-cab firm and was made to feel uncomfortable as drivers would ask her if she lived alone or why she was unmarried “at her age”.
“Other travellers have told us they will book a local taxi pick-up a short distance from their home because they have heard stories of houses being burgled as a result of mini-cab drivers knowing that the house was being left unoccupied,” says Pearson.
“There’s additional risk of whether or not the car will arrive on time or whether the driver will cancel the ride at the last minute, creating immense stress for those who have onwards trains and planes to catch.”
Among those corporates who already include ground transport in their travel programme, traveller safety and duty of care are the number one priority, according to a survey by the GBTA and FREENOW For Business. Their survey of 200 European travel managers found 68% said traveller safety was the top priority, followed by policy enforcement (51%) and cost savings (50%).
But according to a recent survey by ground transport specialist CMAC Group, 50% of business travellers independently source their own taxis and 46% use local private hire companies or taxi ranks, often without the review or guidance of their organisation.
They survey also found 76% are travelling alone more than 75% of the time and a third of business travellers fail to inform anyone of their transportation details.
CMAC’s research found reduced availability means travellers are often resorting to less reputable or unverified transport options. “While cost-effective options may exist, compromising on safety measures can expose employees to unnecessary risks. Emphasising the importance of safety in taxi selection should be a key consideration for businesses to fulfil their duty of care,” says the study.
Travel safety expert Pearson says a road traffic incident or accident presents the biggest risk to business travellers.
“Aside from doing all you can to procure the best and safest services, it’s also vital to drill your business travellers to mitigate risk along the way,” she says.
“Basic travel safety training should include things such as ensuring that passengers correctly identify their driver, using an alternative to having their name displayed on placards in public places.”
“It’s difficult to think of any other element of a business trip where your travellers are in such close proximity to the person responsible for their wellbeing and safety”
She also advises business travellers to do a visual inspection of vehicle and driver, to make sure that both look safe.
“If a driver looks to be exhausted, intoxicated, or under the influence of any substance, or is remarking on having been driving for a long period of time without a break, travellers should avoid getting into the vehicle,” she recommends.
“It’s also prudent to take a photograph of the number plate and share the journey with a colleague or loved one, if anything at all has made the traveller nervous about their personal safety.”
Recognising the specific needs of business passengers, earlier this year ride-hail giant Uber introduced a new product tier for its dedicated product, Uber for Business.
Promising a ‘business-class experience’, Business Comfort gives business users additional benefits, such as priority pick-up from the highest rated and most reliable drivers, and in the most spacious and comfortable cars.
“We knew we had competition from the specialists so we had to do something that would really work for our business customers, who want more reliability, a high-rated driver, and a safe ride in a more spacious car,” says Susan Anderson, Global Head of Uber for Business.
Business Comfort also offers customers preferences, such as requesting a quiet car or at a certain temperature, and gives them access to a 24/7 support service.
One of the major obstacles to including taxis and transfers in a travel programme has been the fragmentation of the market, which means many travel managers simply don’t know where to start.
But the emergence of tech solutions is helping to make it easier. Start-ups like Jyrney are making in-roads with TMCs, OBTs and GDSs, consolidating bookings for taxi, ride-hail and chauffeur rides on its platform.
Mobility iQ from The Miles Consultancy is a ‘super app’ which aggregates multi-mobility suppliers into one solution.
Meanwhile, the recent investment by car rental giant Sixt into Blacklane will mean its chauffeur services will be added to the Sixt app alongside other forms of transport. With the Sixt funding – and its bolstered sales team – Blacklane is primed to capture more of the UK corporate market.