American business travelers are masters at understanding the planes, trains and automobiles that we all rely on.
We know just when to arrive at the airport so we can make it through security and walk onto the plane. We know which train is likely to be on time, and which one is always delayed. And we know how to avoid the lines at the rental counter.
But there is a new service, which many business travelers find convenient and even innovative, but have little understanding of its impact on our business, our safety and the duty of care that travel providers must provide to their travelers.
This service is transportation network companies – or TNCs for short. These are the popular ride-sharing companies that connect consumers with drivers through mobile applications.
In our personal lives, we can all make our own judgments about whether these services are safe, have adequate insurance and do deep enough background checks and driver training.
When it comes to our businesses, we don’t have that luxury. According to a recent survey conducted by GBTA – 29 percent of companies have evaluated the pros and cons, and have made thoughtful decisions about whether these services are appropriate for their employees.
Five percent of companies have made TNCs their preferred ground transportation alternative, while 24 percent have policies specifically prohibiting their use.
But that leaves approximately 71 percent of companies where TNCs are an acceptable option, but while these companies are reimbursing employees who use TNCs, many may have informal, ad hoc or no policies in place regarding TNCs. That creates a glaring gap that puts businesses and travelers at risk.
In the same survey, we asked travelers and travel buyers (those who set companies’ travel policy), what are the most important factors that go into making a decision about what kind of ground service to use.
Both groups — in numbers upwards of 80 percent — said travelers should feel safe; the vehicles they use should be safe; and pick-ups and drop-offs should be on time. This makes total sense – safety first, followed close behind by the ability to get where you need to be, when you need to be there.
But when we looked deeper at the data, we discovered a blind spot, directly related to duty of care responsibilities.
- Only half of travel managers and business travelers are aware that TNCs may be exempt from regulations and vehicle inspections.
- Just three-quarters of them are aware that TNCs have less driver training and requirements than other options.
- And nearly two-thirds know that TNC drivers typically have less insurance coverage than other providers.
When this information is taken into consideration, seven-in-ten travel buyers indicated that they are “very concerned” about the safety of TNCs for their business travelers, and half of business travelers feel similarly.
So what should businesses and travel buyers do to address this gap?
Rather than have informal and ad hoc procedures in place, businesses should do their due diligence, determine what’s right for their company and put a formal policy in place.
That will ensure that their company is protected in the event of an accident, or worse. And most importantly, it will help ensure that their employees are safe and secure.
As an academic matter, most people in the travel industry are impressed with the innovative technologies and service that TNCs provide. And many travelers find TNCs to be a convenient option.
For businesses, however, convenience is not enough. Businesses have to think through impacts on a wide range of business critical activities – from safety and security, to liability concerns, to legal and financial implications.
Ride-sharing services are no longer a novelty. The businesses today that do not have a formal policy in place regarding TNCs should give serious thought to the pros and the cons that these services create, and put a proactive policy in place to protect their business and their employees.