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Company sepcializes in prescheduled, flat rate airport trips with familar drivers



COURTESY WINGZ - The Wingz app for scheduling airport runs with chosen drivers.

San Francisco’s rideshare company Wingz just started service in Portland.

Wingz provides rides to the airport using Uber-style contractors, who use their own car and manage fares through a mobile app.

However, Wingz is attempting to differentiate itself from the likes of Uber, Lyft and regular cab service by stressing the pre-scheduled, flat-rate nature of the rides. People who take regular trips to the airport — mostly business travellers — can be swayed by the fact that they have a regular driver whom they know and trust. Normally this is provided by an upscale car or limousine service, but Wingz’s CEO Chris Brandon is stressing that taking out the middleman using technology means they can keep their rates attractively low.

“We want to put you in a car with a driver you know, like and trust,” Brandon told the Business Tribune. “We want to have drivers who become part of the social fabric for our customers, we’re trying to offer quality and peace of mind. There’s no surge pricing, you can communicate, it’s all about relieving stress.”

Wingz now operates in 12 cities and 19 airports across the United States, with around 1,000 drivers. It has a presence in all the big west coast cities. Portland completes the picture. The drivers are non-commercial drivers, and prescheduling is key.

The company’s informal slogan is “At Wingz our drivers are waiting for you, where Uber and Lyft make you wait for them.”

The long-term goal is to use the data they collect to optimize the service. “We’re very driver friendly. We have a driver support team. They can talk to a real person.”

Customers schedule a pickup time, receive a guaranteed price quote and get information about the driver picking them up. Features such as knowing if a customer needs car seats, a certain temperature or a ritual are considered the preserve of car services, and Brandon says Wingz can provide them.

Repeat customers can also request their favorite drivers with the new “My Favorite Driver” feature to ensure a trusted and familiar face will be there waiting on travel day. Favorite drivers get a higher percentage of the fare then non-favorite drivers.

Car service on a bus pass budget

Initially Wingz is for runs to and from the Portland International Airport only, but Brandon says there will be rides around the city by the end of the summer.

He calls it private car service at the price of less than a taxi.

“It’s part of the evolution of ground transportation service, to democratize private car service in the United States.”

Wingz keeps the price down by using no commercial drivers and taking a small fee from the fare. “Most of the revenue goes to the driver, and they love us for that.”

For a direct booking with a favorite driver, Wingz takes five percent. If it’s a general booking (the customer is not trying to rebook), the fee is 12 percent.

Brandon, who joined the company in December 2015, says the founders wanted to create quality service for everyday Americans, and to put more money in the pocket of drivers.

“It’s a perfect balance between customer value and driver value.”

COURTESY WINGZ - Airport drop off.

Is Wingz aiming for the east coast market?

Brandon points out that some east coast markets are TNC (Transportation Network Company) unfriendly.

Case in point, Uber in New York City. Wingz won’t bother trying to crack that market for a while. “We are permitted in several south eastern cities and then we will build our brand up the coast. It really has to do with how friendly or unfriendly the regulators are in each market.”

Dawn airport runs

He says Wingz was operating at Denver Airport until the airport said they had to pay a $100,000 annual fee.

“We said ‘We’re a small business and we can’t afford that,’ and they said ‘Well, Uber and Lyft pay it...’ We said ‘Well, they have billions of dollars and we don’t...’”

Some markets are attractive from population density in relation to permitting costs. “We want to create regional hubs, so it makes sense to take care of the west coast. We went into Dallas, Houston and Austin all at the same time to create a market there.”

He says it’s a “little bit of the wild west” when it comes to who charges what to operate at airports, as they may be under the auspices of the nearest big city, or a port authority, or the state, or someone else. Consequently Wingz has to spend a lot of time and labor on compliance, working with different authorities.

“Many of our drivers also drive for Uber and Lyft, but they like working for us because they know exactly how much money they are going to make when they start their shift.”

They prefer being able to schedule out their day rather than cruising around waiting for the app to ping.

Wingz cars must be under five years old, cannot be sub-compact, and all go through the same mechanical inspection as Uber and Lyft.

“And we personally interview every driver, mostly in person, some on Skype. Not all drivers can meet our standards.”

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