Selecting the right ground transportation provider isn’t easy. Whether you’re planning travel for yourself or on behalf of someone else, ground is often the last thing on your mind. That’s understandable, given the complexity of choosing between different vendors, in different markets, with wildly different standards of service.
But just because ground is challenging doesn’t mean you can let it to fall off your radar. If anything goes wrong with a trip, it usually happens during the ground portion. Not only do 1.25 million people die every year in traffic accidents worldwide, 58% of kidnappings involve a vehicle.
It’s up to you to do the due diligence necessary to choose the right ground provider. Lucky for you, we happen to know a little bit about ground transportation. That’s why we put together this handy list of questions. Use it to kick off the conversation with potential providers and to make sure there aren’t any surprises waiting for you or your team down the road.
1. Who will be behind the wheel?
We’ve included this question first because it’s the most critical of all: into whose hands are you placing your safety or the safety of your traveler?
Screening standards vary across ground transportation solutions and companies. New York City taxi drivers, for example, must pass written exams and complete a defensive driving course, in addition to meeting other requirements. Uber and Lyft drivers need only pass a driving records and criminal background check to start.
Think about it… You wouldn’t hop into a private jet being piloted by a hobbyist earning extra cash on the weekend, yet the statistics suggest you take more risk when you jump into a car being driven by a side-hustling taxi or ride-sharing service driver.
In addition to meeting basic safety standards, look for a solution that qualifies drivers with rigorous vetting and hiring practices, and that invests in their certification from the standpoint of both service and safety. Your driver may be your traveler’s only point of contact on the ground. Make sure that point of contact is someone they can trust.
2. How will my traveler find the vehicle at the pick-up location?
One of the most common complaints travelers have about their ground transportation experience is the challenge of finding the right driver in the first place. This can result in on-location frustration and unnecessary delays or, at the extreme end, serious safety concerns.
Ask your prospective ground solutions how they streamline this first meeting. An ideal solution will provide advance notification regarding vehicle make, model and plate number, and the driver’s name and mobile phone number to facilitate positive identification. Real-time, direct communication to convey exact positioning and live GPS tracking for both travelers and their support teams (if desired) can also help them connect in busy lobbies or terminals.
Further, ask if your potential providers have trained their drivers in positive identification protocols. Drivers should know to identify themselves and to respond to traveler identification requests in a way that ensures the right parties are matched appropriately at the first meeting.
3. What kind of training do drivers receive?
This question becomes especially important in the case of executive transportation, where service standards are as critical as safety protocols.
Obviously, you’ll want a driver who is aware of applicable safety risks and trained in how to avoid them. But beyond that, are the drivers who will be transporting your travelers well versed in hospitality standards and the needs of executive travelers? Have they been taught to read a traveler’s body language and non-verbal cues in order to support them instinctively? Have they been trained to concierge-level hospitality standards?
Training standards vary from provider to provider, and the elements that are critical to you may not matter to another company. Be sure your final selection meets the requirements you’ve identified as top priorities for your travelers.
4. How well will my driver know the local area?
For most executive travelers, unexpected traffic problems simply can’t be allowed to disrupt the schedule. Any good driver should be expected to use a real-time navigation and traffic app to help them identify the most efficient route at any given moment. But even with Waze or similar tools, there’s an immeasurable benefit to working with a local driver who can easily change between multiple route alternatives at a moment’s notice.
This need is amplified in the event of unanticipated security threats. Some ground providers now harness the same breaking news sources as financial firms and news stations, giving them added insight into emerging conditions on the ground. In response to these alerts, local drivers can seamlessly alter course, maintaining agreed-upon schedules while keeping travelers safe.
5. What is the communication protocol before and during the trip?
No matter who you’re riding with, visibility is key. Ask potential providers when you’ll have access to key pieces of information, such as driver name and vehicle details. Ask how you’ll be notified when certain trip milestones are completed, such as when the driver is on location or when traveler pick-up has been confirmed. If your traveler flies private, will your chosen ground provider interact seamlessly with your pilot through flight deck notifications?
The more you know about each part of your trip, the more confident you’ll feel in the successful completion of your mission, and the better prepared you’ll be to manage challenges, should they arise.
6. How can I communicate with the service provider if I need to change an itinerary?
Itinerary changes are inevitable. Meetings run long. Events are cancelled. Negotiations take longer than expected.
When these interruptions threaten your carefully-laid plans, will your ground transportation provider be there to support you? Are they proactively monitoring your travel schedule for changes? Are they available 24/7, or will you have to wait for open office hours or resort to voicemail? What are their average wait times for incoming calls? Are they only available by phone, or will you also have access to email, text or chat support?
Ask potential providers who will offer support in the event of itinerary changes. Mystery shop them by calling after hours to experience their service levels for yourself. Will you be connected with a representative at random, or will you be assigned your own dedicated team of support specialists who will be familiar with your company’s needs and preferences?
7. What are your vehicle standards?
For most discerning travelers, late-model luxury vehicles aren’t just desirable – they’re an expectation. Get specific when asking about vehicle types, makes and models, and don’t let yourself be fooled by well-known model names. The last Lincoln Town Cars, for example, rolled off the line in 2011, making the newest Town Car on the road nearly eight years old.
For reference, executive travelers most frequently request:
- Mercedes S-class sedans
- BMW 7-series sedans
- Chevrolet Suburban SUVs
- Cadillac Escalade SUVs
Don’t rely on language like “executive” or “premium.” Avoid surprises by clarifying which specific vehicle models are covered by different providers’ tiers of service. Be aware as well of the domestic and international availability of different vehicle classes. In Europe, for example, SUV service is uncommon, though some ground providers may offer Range Rover or Multi-Passenger Vehicles (MPVs) that offers more space than sedans, without compromising comfort.
Further, whenever you’re screening a new ground transportation provider, don’t just ask what their vehicle standards are. Ask how they’re maintained as well. Do they have set standards that account for dents and dings, vehicle odors, or torn upholstery? Do they mystery shop their drivers regularly to ensure these standards are upheld?
Your traveler is trusting you to deliver a vehicle that meets their expectations and supports their productivity while on the road. Don’t let them down with vehicles that don’t meet their standards.
8. What safeguards are in place to protect travelers’ personal information, including itineraries?
Your ground transportation provider and every stakeholder involved in your ground travel experience – drivers included – have access to personal information about you or your traveler. Having a ground solution that covers your travelers’ identities and other personal information under its privacy policies and that takes steps to limit access to key information is a must.
How much information about travelers does the service under consideration share with its drivers? Is more of your traveler’s itinerary revealed to the driver than is necessary for the specific scope of the trip? If so, you may want to look for an alternative that offers obscured communication channels or that has comprehensive data security policies managed by a central IT department.
9. How does the company protect confidential information shared inside the vehicle?
Discretion is a must for any executive traveler conducting business on the road. For your travelers to operate at peak productivity, they must be able to take calls or send messages while traveling – even if doing so requires the sharing of sensitive information.
Ask any ground transportation provider you’re considering what they do to protect information disclosed inside the vehicle while on the road. Look for one that has specific confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements for drivers – notarized, on-site and stored – that detail strict disciplinary measures for violations.
10. Does the company guarantee the success of your trip?
Don’t trust that your provider will take care of you in the event of a service disruption. Make sure you understand their policies and procedures before booking your first trip.
Look for a provider whose goal isn’t to be a “one and done” ground provider. Instead, look for one who is capable of supporting you for the long term, and who has the scale and scope to support your company’s entire travel calendar, no matter how many travelers you have or where in the world they’re traveling. Reputable ground solutions know that they can’t win your trust without resolving issues that arise, which is why they commit to guaranteeing the success of your trips.
More Questions to Ask Your Ground Provider
These ten questions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to properly vetting ground travel solutions. For the full list, click the button below to request Savoya’s cheat sheet to the “35 Questions to Ask Before Selecting a Ground Provider.”
Got a great question to add to our list? Share it by leaving a comment below.
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Mr. Miraglia, Senior Vice President of Global Sales at Savoya, is passionate about driving the growth of the Savoya brand among new clients and existing customers. His contributions answer common questions received by the Savoya team, in addition to providing travel management guidance for companies of all sizes.