Experience - It's ESSENTIAL!

I tell many people that I’ve been driving clients and customers for a long time. 

 

This is how it started:

Years ago my first job in the Army was in Fulda near the east German border. As the old cliché goes, I was right off the farm in a foreign country for the first time and in the Army for about 7 months.  The Captain I worked for thought I’d be perfect for a job that he needed filled.  So as a 19 year old Private I became “The Colonel’s Driver”.  Fulda was a bit remote and “The Colonel” was responsible for ensuring that the border between east and west Germany was manned; we drove around a lot.  Unfortunately, being in country for two months with no training on how to deal with “The Colonel” I was lost – both geographically and psychologically.  Thankfully, that assignment lasted only three months before "The Colonel" *requested* that I be relieved as his driver. 

(For those of you with little military background, Colonels don’t “request” anything). 

So I went back to driving other missions in sedans and jeeps; and after proper training, fuel trucks, and even tanks. I gained the experience I should have had before ever being placed in that position. 

I learned a lesson all those years ago:  Never send an inexperienced, untrained person out to perform a job in a high stress environment where precision matters, confidence counts, and passengers are priceless!!!

Austin Ultimate Sedans will never send our new chauffeurs out with clients until they have been thoroughly trained and tested in our way of taking care of business and you, our clients. We operate as one team, to make sure our chauffeurs can readily obtain any information needed to fully prepare for trips, whether from dispatch, managers, lead chauffeurs or reservationists.   Our training material is developed and treated as living documents, evolving as our professionals share best practices, and feedback from clients.

 

AUS One Team - App or Not!

Our clients have many options for transportation services. We strive to make sure they are glad they selected Austin Ultimate Sedans.

Our clients don't just expect customER service, they expect customIZED service, and we take this seriously every day.

We operate as ONE TEAM, from reservations to billing.  Anyone you contact at AUS will be happy to assist any way possible to maximize your satisfaction.  

"Phone App" transportation has been the rage for the last two years.  We certainly utilize technology in the back office, and our drivers use mobile dispatch apps, but to date we have had little demand for a customer app which tracks the driver.  We prefer to invest in our drivers, vehicle maintenance and customer service.  We have tested several reservation software options and have not been satisfied with the results so far. We will not migrate to a system which does not add value for our clients.  Our current software platform has introduced a new passenger app, but we have not been satisfied with support for existing issues.  We hope to offer this feature to clients if they prefer to use an app, but until we have confidence in the integration of a phone app with the existing platform, we will continue business as usual.

We are proud of the fact that our customers don't worry about the location of their drivers. Our chauffeurs are on time, and in contact with passengers as needed. While we always look for ways to leverage technology for efficiency, we will never replace our personalized service with technology.

Many of our clients simply forward an airline confirmation to our office, and we know what to do! A reservation is booked, a confirmation is sent, and a driver arrives on time for arrivals and departures.  Our office is technology driven: We can provide manifests, reports, etc. for any customer if needed.  We just don't expect them to install and navigate an app in order to arrange a ride.  They hire our services to reduce their overhead!

Austin Awaits, City Fiddles

We continue to hear tidbits about the city of Austin's plan to somehow 'legalize' the "peer to peer" transportation companies.  We do have clients from other cities who say they use this service in their home cities, but most of them use the legally permitted "black car" division.  This is NOT the same service as the "UberX, Lyft, Sidecar, etc." which are in the news currently.  Falsely labeled as “Ride Sharing”, these “Transportation Network Companies” consist of personally owned vehicles driven by anyone. They are all independent operators who technically answer to no one.  There is no true local oversight, daily inspections, or ongoing in-car driver training. There is no manager to call - you can email Uber and wait for resolution, like this woman, whose driver demanded $500 for the return of a cellphone.  Notice, they merely said they would deactivate until it was returned.  (You have our GUARANTEE that none of our drivers will ever behave this way!!!)

http://laist.com/2013/12/17/uber_driver_demands_500_for_phone_l.php

Riders beware: If your driver is aggravated because you did not add a tip, or if you made them wait (even though you pay for the wait, it is lower than mileage rates) they can give you a low rating. I've seen drivers actually post passengers' addresses on forums, advising others "don't pick this guy up!"

It is not my nature to complain about competitors, but I’m making an exception because these are not “legal” competitors. They have moved in to the city, and flashed their illegal status (and pink mustaches) as a badge of honor.

I have had UberX drivers accuse me of being afraid of competition, and I would like to set the record straight.  We are not afraid of competition, we welcome new legal operators to town, in fact we often trade work with them, because having a solid network of reputable providers is critical.  We have all had to rely on another trusted operator at one time or another. 

The fact is: Many stifling regulations are forced upon our industry, ostensibly to ensure “safe and reliable transportation” for Austin residents and visitors. The city has also said they have these rules in place because their role is “MANAGED COMPETITION”. Yes, folks – that is what they have said. We do believe customers should have the right to choose their level of service, and we believe these new companies should have the right to define their own level of customer service. But we do NOT believe they should be able to operate as a unique entity unburdened by the regulations we must meet. We don’t believe the city should be touting them as a great, safe solution to Austin’s traffic woes when this has yet to be verified, and it is particularly troubling to hear city officials refer to them as “ride sharing”, leaving the impression to many that this is some benevolent society just trying to do a good thing.

While we fight very hard to remove some of the antiquated regulations, we do support basic safety requirements: Insurance, chauffeur permits on file with the city, and verification of vehicle inspections.  We believe ALL operators should be required to follow the same safety rules.  We are vehemently opposed to the creation of a special provision for these independent operators, aside from the permitting.  Forcing the "traditional" car service providers to own stretch limousines and mandating "luxury" vehicles with quarterly permit fees prevents us from competing with regular economy service, something many of our regular business travelers desire. Additionally, we should be able to service our hotel clients within last minute requests if they can summon these other services by mobile app.

Our request is simple:  Mandate commercial insurance, proof of driver safety (on file with the city) and of course permit fees to cover the basic administration of the oversight.  Remove the fleet restrictions, and the advance reservation minimum (currently 30 minutes for us, yet no minimums are proposed for these new companies) 

Administrative cost of doing business in the city should be equal for all providers. The city should be the central point for permitting, no customer should have to wait days for email responses when their work device is missing. They should have an immediate option for reporting any illegal behavior, and the city should be able to permanently block a guilty driver from putting any other passenger at risk.

Major cities’ weak efforts at enforcement has encouraged more bad behavior. The aggressive flaunting of city violations has been astonishing, especially since our drivers are stopped and inspected quite regularly, even though the inspectors KNOW our vehicles, and drivers. These companies have been operating illegally in Austin for at least two years, boasting of their activities on their official blogs and twitter accounts.  They operate in a virtual world with a lot of unethical practice in place:  For example, the practice of booking then cancelling rides to hurt competitors  http://www.theverge.com/2014/8/12/5994077/uber-cancellation-accusations

I realize that the bad examples are not likely the majority.  I believe there are plenty of honest people who just want to earn a little money, maybe grow their own business. Again – that is a GOOD THING! We just believe they should have the same requirements as other permitted operators, and we believe those requirements should be specific to safety. We believe our clients are the best judge of QUALITY.

To readers who are happy with these personal vehicle services, we wish you the best of luck, and caution you to do your own research on safety, liability, etc. We wish you all safety and prosperity, and still hope to earn your business in the future! And if this future includes the famous “surge pricing”, we also promise this – during SXSW, ACL, etc, we will not charge hundreds of dollars to go 10 miles, as some of these companies are known to do.

To the independent contractors for these companies – especially the first time drivers – please do your homework, do the math - be informed. If you are really interested in becoming a professional driver, take the time to do it right! Get qualified driver training, get legal. There are plenty of reputable companies in town who would be happy to have an eager new driver. Want to run your own business? Get an airport permit, learn how to run a business and maximize your profits, calculate the wear and tear, calculate your true earnings per hour, and weigh the risk of losing your personal insurance due to an accident while commercially operating. Calculate the costs of the downtime when someone vomits in your vehicle, and you have out of pocket requirements to get back on the road. Calculate the risk to your license when a passenger drinks in your car, (as a private vehicle – this is a violation of the open container laws!!) Once you are legally permitted as a ground transportation provider in Austin, with the same requirements as existing car services, we welcome the friendly competition!!!

As for the taxi companies: Those who have lobbied to restrict private car service have brought much of this on themselves, by pushing to keep black car services minimized and expensive. I hope this results in deep soul searching. Protectionism never ends well.

To the city of Austin: Do what you were elected/hired to do. Stop writing unenforceable laws. Simple rule of thumb:  If it is too difficult to enforce,  it probably needs to be scrapped!

It really should be this simple:

  1. Issue a vehicle permit (taxi, shuttle or car service) – include verification of commercial insurance
  2. Issue a chauffeur permit - include (verification of background and safety training
  3. No permit, no pickup. The gypsies are easy to catch, they advertise online, operators send you these names frequently. Book a ride with them, then cite them. Catch them again, impound them
  4. Let the MARKET decide whether the company/driver is worthy of a second booking

* Edited 9/19/2014 to clarify my taxi statement - I do realize that some of the taxi representatives  have NOT worked to keep private car service unaffordable.

It is NOT RIDESHARING!

In spite of all rules and regulations for ground transportation providers in Austin, there are still companies like UberX, Lyft, etc. which continue to violate these regulations, based on a false claim to be "Ride Sharing".  Many customers believe they are somehow helping keep Austin city streets less congested, safer, etc. by  participating in "Ride Sharing".  UberX and Lyft are not "Ride Sharing". Ride sharing is "Car Pooling", and there are certainly some legitimate ride sharing services around Austin. (Carma, for example)

With Ride Sharing, you share the cost of the ride.  There is no profit, the revenue is limited to the cost of operation.  Furthermore, it truly DOES save fuel and wear and tear, because it joins passengers who are headed in the same direction.  With UberX and Lyft, drivers are dispatched to your location to take you to your destination.  They are not merely heading in the same direction.  In fact, they may drop you off, then return to the same location to transport another passenger.  Furthermore, they receive considerable wages for the service, and their transportation booking company receives considerable profit.

Uber states on their sites  "All Uber rides are backed by the driver’s insurance policy as well our corporate insurance policy"

In reality:  Unless  a commercial driver has commercial insurance policy, the ride is NOT covered by their policy.

There are many regulations in the Austin Transportation Code we would like to see modified, and we continue to work with our friends and affiliates, as well as city officials, to change them, but we continue to be legally permitted to operate within the city limits.  Our chauffeurs have background checks ON FILE at the city, our cars are inspected per city code.  Our cars have all required permits affixed, and you don't need to worry about being left on the side of the road because one of our vehicles is impounded for unlawful operatoin.  

We realize Austin requires many service levels of transportation, and believe economy service should be available.  Many people do not realize that the reason we don't provide lower rates in less luxury vehicles is because the city dictates the type of car, and rates we charge.  We are also forbidden to accept ride requests in less than 30 minutes.  We would love to be able to offer some economy  and "on demand" options to our local clients and business travelers, and hope we can eventually convince the city to give up the "vehicle type" and rate restrictions. Until that happens, we believe that UberX and Lyft should be equally restricted.

And - (now THIS is important!!"!") -> We are a commercial vehicle, so you are free to have an open container in our back seats without fear of arrest!!!

And last but certainly not least, we will never surprise you with a surge price. 

Stay cool (we have another month of heat to endure!) and stay safe!  Thanks for traveling with AUS!  ~Jan

 

 

Thank you for traveling with Austin Ultimate Sedans. We value your business!