March 7, 2021

Safe drive

From contactless payments to certified cleaning regimes, ground transport providers have stepped up a gear in response to Covid, writes Gary Noakes

Proud owners often refer to “that new car smell”, but in the pandemic era it’s the whiff of cleaning fluid that’s the fragrance of choice when it comes to vehicle hire and ground transport in general.

Covid-19 has made us all wary of health and safety procedures and ground transport specialists have a lot to shoulder, as hiring a vehicle could pose a risk from many touch points even before you get the keys. Similarly, just being a passenger in most types of taxi or minibus is a forced encroachment of the two-metre distance advice, so firms have had to adapt their services accordingly.

Suppliers have also had to make adjustments to their cancellation terms should a planned meeting suddenly get cancelled when a specific area goes into lockdown. More than ever, it’s vital to read the small print, so here’s a snapshot of what the industry is doing to combat the risks and encourage us to get moving again.

Contactless Rentals

Whether through apps or just the remote location of vehicles, contactless is understandably popular at the moment. Apps and loyalty scheme membership generally permit contactless collection, but Enterprise is also offering kerbside rentals and at some branches delivery too. Its SMS Advance Check In works in a similar way to a smartphone airline boarding pass and is a low-touch option.

Hertz offers a low-touch option to its Gold Plus Rewards members as a general perk. This allows renters to go straight to the vehicle and e-return without approaching the counter.

“Particular attention is paid to 20-plus high touch points, including air vents and visor mirrors”

Europcar’s Deliver and Collect, launched in July, is an option for most renters, although it is not offered at airports and some other branches. It costs from £1 plus £2 per mile each way. Europcar also offers Click & Collect, which also allows customers to bypass rental stations. Customers are met in a designated area of the car park where staff hand over the keys and rental agreement at a safe distance.

Meanwhile, Avis has suspended home delivery in the UK, but Jeanette Harper, Avis Budget Group Director Travel and Partnerships, says other options are being developed: “We are introducing a digital check-in service that will enable customers to spend less time at the counter when picking up a vehicle at any Avis location, by giving them the opportunity to provide their contact details and driving licence information online,” she explains.

Cleaning

Cars used to be cleaned only before the next rental, but that has changed during the pandemic, with vehicles generally attended to immediately on return.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car and sister brands Alamo and National operate a Complete Clean Pledge, which is in addition to their normal cleaning procedures and is designed to meet leading health authority requirements. Particular attention is paid to 20-plus high touch points, including air vents and visor mirrors.

Hertz has a similar system and seals each vehicle afterwards with its Gold Standard Clean door sticker. Europcar has its cleaning procedures overseen by testing certification specialist Bureau Veritas.

Cancellations

Whether you can get a swift refund may depend on whether you booked direct or through an agent. Avis, for example, is waiving cancellation fees for refunds on bookings that start before 15 December 2020 if cancelled via its website. However, it advises customers booking through third parties to contact them directly.

Hertz and sister brands Thrifty and Dollar now offer free cancellation for clients affected by travel restrictions. In addition, vehicles can be returned to a different location and earlier or later than planned, with no fee, if Covid forces a change of plan.

Loyalty Schemes

Not hiring vehicles means not earning points, but for anyone shuddering at the thought of losing their tier status, there’s good news from some companies.

Enterprise is extending its Emerald Club Elite status, so members with tier points set to expire in February 2021 will get a one-year extension and qualifying rentals will roll over. Avis is taking a similar approach, with loyalty vouchers now having 15-month validity. Preferred customers get double the accrued spend for rentals booked from the beginning of June to the end of 2020. Tier status of all Preferred customers has been extended for another 12 months regardless of rentals.

Airport Shuttles

Getting from terminal to pick-up and vice-versa poses another risk. Shuttles should be subject to the same cleaning regimes as hire vehicles, with one-way passenger flows and limits on numbers. Enterprise’s shuttles are disinfected “at least once per day”.

Taking a Back Seat

Wearing a face covering on public transport in England is mandatory, but the rules do not cover taxis and private hire, so corporate travellers need to be vigilant as to each taxi firm’s policy. The Department for Transport says only that passengers “should” wear masks and that drivers are exempt from wearing face coverings.

Uber is firm on this, making face coverings compulsory for passengers and drivers. “If you are riding with Uber and your driver arrives without a face covering, you can cancel your ride,” it says. Similarly, Uber drivers have the right to cancel the fare if the passenger is not masked. Front seats are also out of bounds.

Addison Lee is supplying drivers with disinfectant for daily car cleans on common touch points, three vouchers a week for cleans, and Electrostatic Spray Cleaning every three months.

Executives booking through FREE NOW’s corporate account, FREE NOW for Business, will be provided with hand sanitisers and protective gloves for their journey and drivers are now required to wipe down their vehicles with alcohol solution between each ride. Passengers can avoid cash transactions by paying via an app and can be tracked via its online booking system.