Black cars, airports and business travelers. A mobile app to bring drivers and passengers together worldwide in 50 countries, 250 cities and 500 airports.
Nope. Blacklane — a platform that has digitalized the offline and fragmented business of limo services. Unlike platforms such as Uber, Blacklane doesn’t contract with individual drivers; it only works with professional, licensed and registered limo companies.
These companies are typically small, with only a few cars and drivers. And they often have excess capacity: Limo drivers typically spend 80 percent of their day idle or driving empty, according to Dr. Jens Wohltorf, co-founder and CEO of Blacklane. To help solve this problem, Blacklane is helping fill empty limos — with the help of new innovations.
“We’re just trying to flip this equation around by leveraging technology,” Wohltorf said, adding that Blacklane’s dispatching platform, in particular, can make limo services more successful. The platform can also help smaller, owner-operator companies with two to three cars expand their reach, which represent two-thirds of all limo services worldwide.
In this week’s The Matchmaker Is In, Wohltorf sat down with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster to talk about how Blacklane is bringing limo services and business travelers together around the world. Listen to the full conversation in this week’s podcast.
Building a Business Model
Compared to Uber’s black car service, rides on Blacklane’s platform are typically longer and more focused on travel to and from airports. With more time spent in the car, business travelers seek the quality and level of comfort a service such as Blacklane provides.
The company also wants to provide transportation for both the first and list mile of a business traveler’s journey — starting at a traveler’s home and ending at his or her destination abroad. In that sense, Blacklane differs from other modes of transportation, such as rideshares, taxis and public transportation: It offers a global solution.
“Those are all means of [intra-city] mobility services,” Wohltorf said, adding those often cover short and spontaneous trips. “But Blacklane is focusing on … bringing international people into a city and then after their visit … out of a city.”
Once a customer reaches his or her destination airport in another country, Blacklane connects the traveler with a company in their network and dispatches a driver, who drives the traveler to their final destination. When it’s time for the business traveler to return home, a Blacklane partner will drive the traveler to his or her departing airport — and then to his or her home from the arriving airport.
“So, for every round-trip flight, you can envision a circle where Blacklane can be utilized four times,” Wohltorf said.
In addition to offering business travelers rides to and from the airport, Blacklane can replace the plane as well: Blacklane could transport travelers between two cities so they don’t have to take a short-haul flight.
And Blacklane doesn’t seek to compete with taxis based on price, since it competes on quality and comfort. Yet Blacklane can be less expensive than legacy limo services, which can run 200 percent more than the average Blacklane ride.
Creating a Market Economy
To ensure that drivers are a good fit for Blacklane, the company interviews them to see if they can go the extra mile. They are, in some ways, chauffeurs.
Blacklane’s drivers seek to help travelers take the stress out of their journeys and provide them with peace of mind. To help drivers achieve this goal, Blacklane trains them on the company’s technology and safety standards once they come on board.
But Blacklane continues to make sure its partners meet its standards: Blacklane monitors customer reviews and conducts audits to ensure its partners are up to par.
And, to ensure customers can get a limo when they need one, Blacklane will pay a premium to its driver partners. It may even offer a company more than the passenger pays Blacklane.
“We never push any rides into any partners’ cars,” Wohltorf said. “They can choose whatever fits best to their schedule. And, if a ride is not being taken for whatever reason, we increase the price for the ride until it’s so attractive [enough] that our driver partners are jumping on it.”
Planning for the Road Ahead
To better serve business customers, Blacklane acquired a company to aggregate meet-and-greet concierge service at airports called Blacklane PASS. And that may just be the beginning.
In the future, Blacklane plans to expand its geographic footprint — focusing on the Middle East and Northern Africa, in particular. Wohltorf said the market for travel there is growing fast, with significant outbound and inbound traffic.
Beyond geographical expansion, Blacklane could apply its business model to other segments. But Wohltorf said he would like to stick to the company’s core focus for now.
“I always feel we haven’t even started yet,” Wohltorf said. “Instead of now looking to other industries and distracting us from our focus, I think it’s smarter to stick to what we do and continue to make it better.”