Ground transportation used to be a relatively straightforward part of travel management. No longer. Louise Miller of Areka Consulting gives an overview of what’s changing and how companies should address the challenges.

Now is the time to really think about ground transportation and make some decisions. More progress occurred in the past 12 months than most of us realize. Corporate travel programs that are ready for the ground transportation evolution will maximize traveler satisfaction and productivity. More opportunities to drive savings, spend visibility and policy compliance will come in to view.

The list of ground transportation options in general is becoming rather daunting — ride-hailing, bike and scooter rentals, very short term car rental, etc. Deciding how they fit into a corporate travel program can be equally daunting. Some of the newer options are gaining traction fast, especially in consumer and unmanaged business travel. 

The next big move is integrating autonomous vehicles into the booming ride-hailing and robotaxi markets.

Louise Miller, managing partner in the Americas for Areka Consulting

Studies (including this one) have determined that use of autonomous vehicles eventually will be safer than human-driven vehicles. By 2030, use of owned and shared vehicles with level 4 or 5 autonomous technology (which doesn’t require a licensed human driver) will affordably ease congestion and reduce pollution. Due to large-scale pilot testing, there is a good chance some of your company’s employees already have been in an autonomous vehicle. For example, a Lyft/Aptiv pilot in Las Vegas topped 55,000 rides.

UBS Evidence Labs predicted the robotaxi market will be worth $2 trillion by 2030. Companies in a variety of sectors pour investment into autonomous vehicles and related areas, and it’s starting to pay off. Auto manufacturers and tire brands should see significant growth as they fill rapidly increasing orders to build robotaxis. Semiconductor companies produce the chips that will run vehicle systems. Telecoms companies use 5G networks to create connections between vehicles and to the cloud. Electricity to run the vehicles comes from utility companies. 

This is all happening, and it’s coming to corporate travel. 

To some extent, it has already. Many business travelers use some of the new transportation options. That presents many implications for corporate travel professionals to consider.

What are our company’s travelers doing now?

To find out, expense data is the best place to start.  In a report on first-quarter activity, expense management firm Certify revealed that scooter startups were “starting to appear” in expense reports. Providers, some of which also rent bicycles, include Bird, Lime, Razor and Scoot. It won’t be long before those items are commonplace. It’s also only a matter of time before rides with providers using autonomous vehicles show up in expense systems. If your top cities have newer urban mobility options, you may be surprised by current usage. Targeted surveys to travelers can be useful, but don’t overdo it.

Which categories can be realistically managed?

Other than rental car, corporate procurement departments typically do not have the lion’s share of control over these categories. Categories with more modest spending and controversial implications for legal and human resources tend to be difficult to manage. How long did most companies wait before taking a stand on sharing economy accommodation and ride-hailing? There are fewer companies still passively or completely silent on those topics versus a year ago.

What are the typical blockers and corresponding realities to managing these categories?

1. “We don’t allow use of these methods as there are liability issues.” It’s happening anyway unless you are one of the very few companies that has a policy prohibiting particular ground transportation methods. 

2. “If we take a stand we are sanctioning the behavior and possibly promoting it.” If you take a stand on current issues and gain insight on the company’s likely position, you’ll be ahead of the curve. Giving your traveling population some practical guidance usually makes sense even if it’s early for a specific policy change.  

3. “We don’t have enough resources to deal with this topic now.” Plenty of resources are available today and, besides, what is the potential cost of not dealing with the topic? Your peers are a great place to start, especially those managing travel for companies that develop or invest in autonomous vehicle technologies. Suppliers with ground transportation offers designed for business travel also are a wealth of knowledge. While their primary motive is selling, don’t shy away from engaging them. Industry associations, consultants and the press also provide information and tools to help. Take advantage of this assistance to learn the landscape.

4. “It’s very complicated to balance the management of a legacy category like car rental with all these new mobility services.” As a result, many buyers are careful to weed out current services (traditional car rental) from emerging ones (on-demand services) when determining policy or setting up category management and sourcing.

We don’t have to wait until 2030 for impactful change. Ground transportation services will change more in the next three years than they have in the last 10. The amount of investment fueling these changes is staggering. Hold on for the ride into the next generation of ground transportation.  

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