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:
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.
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.
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
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
“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.
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
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
This report originally appeared in the July 27 issue of
Business Travel News, a sister publication to Travel Weekly.