Uber appearing more often than cabs on Certify expense reports

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Uber, once the elephant in the room that travel managers and buyers didn’t talk about, has become the 800-pound gorilla they can’t ignore.

More Uber rides than taxi trips are showing up on Certify expense reports, and corporations, figuring they might as well work with the reportedly $40 billion to $50 billion company, are getting on board. A look at Uber from all the business travel angles:

Travelers’ take

The second quarter marks the first time Uber appeared on more Certify expense report ground transportation receipts (55 percent) than cabs did (43 percent).

Since the second quarter of 2014, Uber has stolen taxis’ second-place market share spot, advancing from 8 percent to 31 percent while taxis dipped from 37 percent to 24 percent. Uber also has eaten into rental cars’ lead, which dropped from 55 percent to 45 percent, according to Certify. It helps that Certify’s average expensed Uber ride ($30.03) is cheaper than hailing a cab ($34.48).

San Francisco (79 percent), Dallas (60 percent) and Los Angeles (54 percent) are the cities bringing up Certify’s marketshare average. Meanwhile, a March Washington Post article reported on a University of Namur/University of Cambridge study that found New York City cabs were cheaper than Uber rides until the fare reaches $35. (Caveat: The study compared 2013 cab rides with 2014 Uber rides.)

And Uber isn’t just a Western phenomenon: According to the June 29 issue of Time magazine, 1 million people ride it daily in China. Six months ago, that was the worldwide total.

Uber’s wins

In mid-July, Uber for Business announced it had become Wunderman’s preferred ground transportation supplier in the United States, starting with the ad agency’s New York City headquarters before rolling out to its 18 other U.S. offices.

That news followed a June Yahoo Finance story that an employee had spurred IBM to reverse its Uber reimbursement ban in April. The corporation’s accounting department had cited safety and security as a reason for the ban, but a millennial employee petitioned for a reversal on the company’s internal social network, 1,200 colleagues commented on it and the rest, including the ban, is history.

Buyers’ views

Graham Holdings travel services director Nicole Hackett does not address Uber in the company’s travel policy but rather classifies it as a taxi, though Uber’s data-tracking ability does add value. After she rated an Atlanta Uber driver two out of five stars, Uber reviewed the route, agreed that the driver wasn’t efficient, adjusted her fare and offered another ride. Its data reporting, however, isn’t yet up to snuff for her needs. “They do have some reporting, and that’s great, but it’s in its infancy and it needs to improve before we’re comfortable entering into a corporate agreement.”

UCB Pharma head of global travel and fleet management Geert Behets doesn’t prohibit or promote Uber. “In countries where it is legal and people want to use Uber, I am not going to tell them to spend more money. That would be silly.”

And PricewaterhouseCoopers senior manager of events, travel and corporate card Sherry Marshall notes: “We know people are using it and aren’t stopping them from using it. … People have gone to Uber because the experience is better. … We’re not out promoting UberX or anything like that, but it’s going to be hard to stop people.”

Salesforce.com senior manager of global travel and tech solutions Dorian Stonie is a personal fan of Uber, claiming the service has brought consistency in quality of service, cleanliness and payment options, just as chains Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt and the like did for the hotel arena.

Uber is Microsoft’s most expensed taxi service, according to global travel and venue group lead Eric Bailey, and while he considers it safe, the risk to his company will rise if he actively promotes it.

“We’ve all had taxis we didn’t feel safe in. It might be 6 in the morning; the driver might be dozing off a bit. You might be in a 30-year-old Caprice Classic or something like that. These are not safe, but if you tell someone you have to take that car, you now take on a different level of risk.”

TMC picture

“The reality is our clients are asking about it,” said Miriam Moscovici, director of emerging technologies for travel management company BCD Travel. Whether the reason is convenience, access, price or something else, BCD clients who have decided not to ban Uber figure, then, that “it’s time to figure out how to weave it through their travel programs.” That could mean itinerary fields or travel and expense reports, duty-of-care tracking or business intelligence data tracking.

As a TMC that can’t advise clients on the legality of policies, “We remain open to access to data from any point on the trip,” Moscovici said. The company’s systems were set up assuming that new suppliers not in the ecosystem at the time would emerge. In other words, BCD Travel is ready to receive data wherever it comes from. She called the potential for instantaneous, trackable data exciting.

Supplier’s side

Uber for Business has had a dedicated team within the company for the past year, lead Max Crowley told BTN. While the division started from the ground up, the impetus came from inbound interest from companies whose employees had taken it upon themselves to book Uber. Uber had become one of their fastest-growing unmanaged expenses, Crowley said, and they wanted a framework for managing it: to get policies on the books and to make the expense reimbursable.

Thus Uber for Business was born. Crowley said 1,000 new business accounts come in every week, and the company is building sales teams in major metropolitan areas to connect to corporations.

But the service itself is still in its infancy. Crowley aims to take a mode of travel that has become mightily popular among individual travelers and make it more user-friendly for travel program managers. For now, Uber for Business’ expense tech is based on a central account system that allows managers to see spend, add employees and adjust controls like those Uber created in March for day, time, pickup location and the like.

Building from there, Uber for Business has spent the past few months drilling down to make the administrator’s dashboard more transparent: mapping start, stop and route information in real time for duty-of-care purposes and automatically emailing receipts to administrators, for instance. Crowley said 15% of users opted in for that last offering within three days.

Next will be efforts to increase transparency on the corporate card side — it’s beta testing multi-billing, which means invoicing a company once a month rather than for each transaction — and adding to the kinds of reports managers can export, making it easier for them to drill into the data.
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This report originally appeared in the July 27 issue of Business Travel News, a sister publication to Travel Weekly.
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