As we stare down the congested roads and runways of this holiday travel week, it’s easy to imagine that technology has somehow made travel better. And yes, there are some trends and services worth applauding, but first, a few losses worth remembering.
Dec. 31, after 37 years of continuous operation, the ubiquitous SuperShuttle is going out of business. You know, the bright blue vans that gathered up groups of discount travelers and college students at airports and delivered them in long windy trips to downtown hotels.
It’s easy to assume that Uber and Lyft did in the shared airport ride service, and you’d be correct, up to a point. But, as with all these things, there’s an underlying story.
First of all, SuperShuttle was a franchise, and the drivers owned their vans and paid a franchise fee and commission to the main office for distributing rides.
Then, there’s the private equity battle being fought behind the scenes.
According to the Los Angeles Times, SuperShuttle is owned by Blackstreet Capital Holdings, a private investment firm in Bethesda, Maryland that acquired the company just this past September from Transdev on Demand Inc. And they’re suing each other, of course.
For the drivers, it’s an ugly end. Just last year, the National Labor Relations Board ruled against SuperShuttle drivers at Dallas-Fort Worth airport who were looking to unionize.
So, say goodbye to the SuperShuttle as an option to get to and from the airport. One choice gone.
Another slow-motion service death came after the 2013 sale of ZipCar to Avis. ZipCar was a spunky startup that gave urban car-free families a way to use cars on a fractional basis. With hourly rentals, and easy pick-up and drop-offs, it fostered a sense of community among its users.
The idea for Zipcar dates to 1999 when Robin Chase learned about car sharing from a friend who had just returned from Berlin. A mother of three with an MBA, Chase secured financing and Zipcar was started in 2000 with the slogan “Wheels When You Want Them.”
For a bit, it seemed as if Avis might leave the spunky ZipCar alone. But after internal culture clashes, the larger Avis has slowly absorbed the ZipCar features it found useful. Today the cars are often dirty, the schedules for rental are changed and ignored, and the brand seemed destined to the graveyard of good ideas left to go fallow.
Still, don’t give up on innovation in the transportation business. On the horizon is a new offering, an Airbnb for the car-sharing business. It’s called Turo. “Way better than a rental car”: that’s how Turn describes itself on its homepage. Turo is a peer-to-peer rental company, which means car owners can list and rent their own cars.
Turn seemed like it could pick up where ZipCar left off — only cooler and zippier.
A fast search in my area turned up all sorts of Maserati, Porsche, Tesla, BMW and Land Rover models that owners will rent to me. Really? Rent their Maserati to ME? Let’s see how that works out.
Happy holidays. Zoom, zoom.