Blowing apart ground transportation

Last week at Executive Travel, we were planning our 2014 editorial calendar. I fought hard for one particular issue theme that was not well received: ground transportation. OK, I get that on the surface it sounds like a yawner. But it does strike me that a big change in business travel in the last year or two has been disruption in what has otherwise been a very boring part of every single trip: How to get to the airport, to the hotel, vice versa and everywhere in between.

Technology has changed everything in ground transportation, as it has everywhere else. Uber broke in with a shocking concept. Call a car with a text? What a great idea! See on your app where vehicles are? That feels a whole lot better than waiting on a corner, wondering when you might see a cab rounding the corner.

Once Uber opened the door, a number of other players entered the tech-enabled field, including Taxi Magic. Larger taxi companies developed their own apps. Groundlink and other car services began to communicate with arriving and departing passengers by cheeky texts. A number of taxi companies even got sophisticated by using payments via Square and in-cab credit card services.

There’s more. The car sharing economy reached into travel: Flightcar, Lyft, and others got into the fray…only to face law suits from municipalities that saw they were missing on the tax opportunity. Zipcar was acquired by Avis and now stations cars at airports.

Speaking of the good old car rental companies…. Well, there are just a handful of them now (though they retain most of the old branding), but they’ve made it easier and easier to rent. National’s new app is a great example of how technology can make a boring task easier. The app knows where the user is in the travel process and alerts him or her along the way to resolve issues (your credit card on file is expired!), so you can just jump into the car once you’re at the lot.

Ground transportation may not be quite to sexy yet, but it’s definitely gotten a whole lot more attractive. I’m curious to see what develops next.