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The car’s the star at the moment, as corporate travelers are still wary of catching coronavirus on public transport. The humble automobile has even become a viable alternative to some short-haul flights.
Organizations are also beginning to lean on ground transportation companies to make those first journeys back to the office as risk-free as possible for employees.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has caused confidence in public transport to fall,” said Daniel Price, CEO of mobility startup Jyrney. “In a recent survey by consulting firm Systra, 59 percent of commuters said they would use public transport less in the future.”
As a result, there’s been a notable uptick in activity from several ridehailing and mobility players, including new platforms and funding rounds.
So who’s doing what, and what are the longer-term implications?
First up, Gett, which has a compelling story to tell. The company helps corporate travelers book taxis and ridehailing services, and has just raised $100 million in a funding round led by unnamed investors.
It told Skift it has already seen a significant recovery in corporate transportation volumes, with an 85 percent return to global pre-Covid levels in June as lockdown restrictions eased.
“Following the increased demand for corporate travel as employees return to work, Gett has also reported record new business, growing its client base by three times in June and July compared to pre-Covid months,” a spokesperson added.
Mobility platform Ola is also eyeing a bigger share of the corporate sector, and will roll out a new platform called Ola Corporate across the UK, Australia and New Zealand after launching it in its home market of India (with a claimed 10,000 businesses signed up so far).
The platform aims to make the traveler, and the travel manager’s life, a lot easier by allowing payment from the company’s centralized account, taking the stress out of the common bugbear of individual expense claims.
“Employees book their own rides as they would for personal journeys and simply tag the ride as an Ola Corporate trip. The fares are paid automatically through the company’s Ola Corporate balance and can be viewed and downloaded at any time from the dashboard,” the company said.
It is also investing $64 million over the next 12 months to develop safety initiatives.
Next up, Lyft. The company already has a presence in the corporate space with Lyft Business but it has recently launched Lyft Pass to allow businesses to create custom “transportation programs for commuters and essential workers, while controlling things like cost, ride type, and pick-up/drop-off location”.
Companies can customize their program rules and restrictions to ensure the rides are always in policy, including limiting to certain locations, times of day, and ride types.
In the U.S. it says 200,000 employees get to and from work using Lyft.
Finally, booking platform Groundscope is continuing to expand, and has raised $1.3 million to continue developing its new booking system with DataArt. In the UK, it allows travelers to choose from 600 local ground transportation services.
Short-distance city meetings and the new commute may be driving these recent developments, but in the longer term there’s more potential for the sector on the horizon.
Coronavirus is resetting workplace culture, according to one corporate travel agency boss.
“I’ve been speaking to several clients, and while they are not looking to open their offices up right now, they are looking at travel and using hotels in out of city locations as ‘hubs’ for Covid-secure meeting spaces,” said Jill Palmer, CEO of Click Travel. “This avoids the need for employees to travel into cities, but you still have the benefits of people meeting together. This is something that our meetings and events team is actively planning for with customers right now.”
Meanwhile, more corporations are allowing staff to work from home for longer periods. Google will keep its employees home until at least next July, the Wall Street Journal reported, and where these giants go, others follow.
“Many companies are planning to go back to working in their offices in September, but the new normal working pattern looks to be that employees will work three days a week in their office and two days a week from home,” said John McCallion, CEO of GroundScope, and mainly because social distancing guidance regulations mean employers can’t safely accommodate all employees in their offices at one time.
McCallion added he’s seen “huge pent-up demand” for GroundScope’s services as businesses start to reconnect and have face-to-face meetings — “and that will be the case until a vaccine is developed”.
One mobility-as-a-service platform, Mobileo, also tips greater take-up of taxi use.
“Ridehail is definitely lending itself well to workforce travel across shorter distances and urban trips,” said CEO Justin Whitston, “while we are really seeing car hire being considered for longer distances.”
He added the trend will be around to stay, as companies can reduce overhead costs by slashing office space. “The pace at which working from home, or anywhere, has been adopted by companies of all sizes around the world has been unbelievable,” Whitston said. “However we are creatures of habit and the loss of workplace connectivity and face to face engagement will see a return to normal at some point in the future.”
The Road Ahead
In the UK, the government announced a new Sustainable Innovation Fund on June 27, worth $246 million in the form of innovation grants and research and development procurement.
It was launched to support businesses that come up with innovative, sustainable solutions to the challenges posed by the disruption caused by the pandemic, and is open to travel start-up companies.
Jyrney’s Price, a former commercial director at ground transport solution provider Cabfind (now part of the CMAC Group), is looking to tap into the scheme and collaborate with a partner business (such as a travel management company, leasing company or a business with a significant number of corporate travelers) on a new project.
“Even before the current crisis there was a need for business travel to fully adopt mobility from a cost and duty of care perspective,” Price told Skift. “We see organisations and commuters using alternative transport modes such as taxi, car rental and micro-mobility to replace some public transport journeys. We are developing a solution which gives business travelers easy and controlled access to these alternative modes of mobility.”
In the short term, smarter corporate mobility could play a key role in helping businesses get their teams back to the office, or other meetings, and help restart the economy.
In the longer term, this new wave of enhancements can help drive employee adoption. Ground transportation has often been overlooked in the typical company travel program, but this renewed duty-of-care and technology focus stands to highlight a range of other benefits, including cost efficiencies that are very much needed as business starts back up.