Boston Company Benefits From Ex-Uber, Lyft Drivers

By Boston Chauffeur
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Author: Martin Romjue, Posted at LCT Magazine on July 31, 2019

boston chauffeur team lct magazine

Boston operator Mark Kini (L) with former Uber drivers turned chauffeurs: Christine Nordstrom, Roger Errabey, Tru-See Allah, and Robert Cook. (photo: Boston Chauffeur)

BOSTON — Operator Mark Kini doesn’t completely dismiss the usefulness of Uber and Lyft. One way of contributing to their already high driver turnover rates is to recruit their drivers.

So far, Kini, owner of Boston Chauffeur, an 18-vehicle company based in Beverly, Mass., has hired four Uber drivers as chauffeurs and is onboarding a fifth. In a tight job market where Uber drivers are often earning below minimum wage once they pay all their overhead, a full-time chauffeured job creates appeal both ways.

“I think the climate is shifting; as TNCs try to steal our drivers, now karma can come full circle here,” Kini said. “It’s the simple math of what they were making versus what they were spending, and had a negligible amount leftover.”

Female Chauffeurs Expand Client Reach

Of the five former transportation network company drivers Kini has hired, two are female. They more than prove their worth for a chauffeured service given the growth in female business travelers who look for a sense of security, especially given the widespread media reports of the numerous criminal and offensive behaviors of male TNC drivers toward female passengers.

Boston Chauffeur clients are giving the two female chauffeurs rave reviews and requesting them more often, Kini said. He’s launched an advertising campaign to recruit more women chauffeurs.

“What I’m most excited about is I have struggled for years finding competent, reliable female chauffeurs,” Kini said. “40% of [my] executive travelers are now female.” The advantage hits close to home: “My 20-year-old daughter doesn’t use Uber or an [ridehail] app on her phone. I book her a car and always request a female chauffeur.”

One advantage of hiring TNC drivers that Kini now enjoys is spending less time and money on training. The former TNC drivers are also familiar with navigating the Boston region’s streets, turnpikes, tunnels, beltways, interstates, and airport. Boston Chauffeur employs a total of 20 full- and part-time chauffeurs.

Clients First

Mark Kini Boston Chauffeur (LCT file photo)

One advantage of hiring TNC drivers that Kini now enjoys is spending less time and money on training. The former TNC drivers are also already familiar with navigating the Boston region. (LCT file photo)

A challenge former TNC drivers must adapt to is that clients now dictate schedules, routes, timetables, and levels of service, not an independent-minded driver who can turn an app on or off at will, Kini said. “The chauffeurs are amazed about dealing with high net worth and interesting people and C-level executives. It’s rewarding from that perspective.” The driver-turned-chauffeurs also reap the occasional big cash bonus tip from a client, in addition to the 20% gratuity included in the bill.

“One customer gave a chauffeur a $250 tip for only a one hour and 15-minute ride,” Kini said. “I called her and asked if she thought she was paying the bill and she said, ‘Absolutely not. She is the best chauffeur I’ve ever had and deserves what I gave her.’”

That tip amount is about what a typical TNC driver can gross in a 12-hour day, before deducting expenses. At Boston Chauffeur, the chauffeurs earn anywhere from $16 to $20 per hour plus gratuities.

Recruitment Efforts

To help find more chauffeurs, Kini has set up an internal referral program. If an employee refers a chauffeur candidate who gets hired and stays at least 90 days, that employee gets a $250 bonus.

Kini also goes on mystery rides with independent operator drivers from major chauffeured transportation networks as well as a handful of short rides with Uber drivers. “I’m always asking questions. If a person has a good story or is interesting, I engage them. If I have a good experience, I will ask for a business card or give one of mine.”

Driver-Chauffeur Tells All

One chauffeur who joined Kini’s company in January previously drove for Uber X starting in October 2017, using his personal 2009 Volvo sedan. Like many Uber drivers, Robert Cook was looking for a flexible part-time job to earn supplemental income to support his mortgage and family. Before Uber, Cook had worked full-time in editing and advertising for local media publications.

A Millennial colleague had introduced Cook to the Uber app, and he talked to drivers while taking rides around town before signing on. During the first several months, Cook drove eight hour days, mostly to and from Boston Logan International Airport.

“For the first seven or eight months, I liked working and the compensation,” Cook said. “But in the fall of 2018, Uber changed its terms and I got less money for the same trips. It was not working for me financially. My revenue from Uber and overhead costs were neck and neck, and it got to the point where it was counter-productive.”

While picking up riders at the airport, Cook noticed well-dressed chauffeurs in suits and ties waiting to greet their clients and take them to late-model luxury vehicles. “If I like to drive and I like people, why not work for a limo company with a support system that has people there to help and good equipment?”

“When I drove for Uber, I felt like I was on my own,” Cook said. “When I reached out to them for help, I got no help, no support whatsoever. It’s not a good feeling.”

Cook recalled one harrowing incident on a Friday evening in November 2018 when his right front tire blew out along the Massachusetts Turnpike while taking a female passenger from the airport to her home in Framingham. “The worst part was there was no place to pull over, no shoulder on a busy freeway. I couldn’t call Uber. I called my own insurance company for roadside assistance and they asked me, ‘Are you driving for Uber?’ I said no because I had shut the app off before calling. They don’t help if you are driving Uber, and say you have to go with their insurance.” Besides ringing the insurance, they also considered the legal assistance they could accessed following the accident. Had this been an accident in Fredericksburg, Cook could have considered reaching out to Allen & Allen. The passenger called her husband who picked her up and Cook stayed with the car until he could get roadside help to replace the tire.

The incident was a wake-up call for Cook, who had done 1,900 trips for Uber without an accident or breakdown it might be worth looking into roadside assistance plans and might be time to look for a new job. “I decided I couldn’t continue doing this, and I either had to get a regular job or go in a different direction if I kept driving.” He Googled limousine companies, found Boston Chauffeur, and applied.

The rest of the story could be a testimony, as they say: “One thing I liked about it right away is being affiliated with a local company with a good reputation, with good people working for it. As part of a team, instead of a lone ranger, I like the fact Mark takes great pride in providing the best level of service he can for every ride. The vehicles are in immaculate condition, mechanically and aesthetically. I have corporate clients and regular folks in the Northshore area who value what we bring to the table. The biggest difference is I’m using their car, not my own. If I have any issue, they will be my back up. I can call these guys. There is always someone at the other end of the phone to assist.”

Uber Bowels

Despite the drawbacks of Uber, Cook credits that gig with orienting him to all the many nuances and shortcuts of Boston area traffic and byways.

“If I hadn’t done Uber first, I don’t think I’d be doing as well at Boston Chauffeur. You have to go into the bowels of Boston, I-93, Route 1, Route 128, and the tunnels. I used to think I knew Boston very well, but one thing Uber did is it forced me to give rides in parts of Boston I’d never been to: Dorchester, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plains, and Roxbury neighborhoods. I never had one bad passenger or experience. They all had the same thing in common. They wanted to go from point A to point B.”

As to what will always distinguish chauffeuring from TNC gigging:

“At Uber, it’s all about volume. You have to do a lot of rides to make it work at all. With a limo, it’s about quality instead of quantity. It has certainly made me a better driver. I feel more sensitive and cognizant of what people care about when they are in the car. I try to give them what they want. That makes you feel good and like you succeeded.”

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