In 2022 we agreed to follow in the footsteps of a driver that works for Stansted Travel Services, located in and around Stansted Airport. Stansted Travel Services are an independent private hire and chauffeur company of some 15 years and have supplied a range of quality transfer services to and from Stansted and its surrounding towns and villages. Sarah Walton, the MD, has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic with more passion for a business that she helped to grow but is cautious about the immediate future.
Sarah stated, “The challenges for the trade over the past two years have been unparalleled, and no one firm in the trade has come out of this period unaffected. We have lost many drivers and so for the next year or so it will be a period of slow growth and engagement once again as we begin to service our customers, both old and new with their transfer needs in the local area.”
Read More - How To Get Spiders Out Of Your Car
She went on to be cautious about what growth would mean but was certain about one thing, “Keeping overheads as low as possible moving forwards is certainly how we feel that we can take this business forward. Travel is back but for many, like our business customers, but it is certainly not yet back to pre-Covid-19 levels.
With many drivers having left the trade over the past two years, it will take time for that driver pool to come back and so this will all impact on how the business emerges from COVID-19. That said, recent demand patterns are strong, and we are gradually seeing old faces coming back to work which is encouraging.”
Stansted Travel Services have only ever worked previously with self-employed owner drivers and the business has always proudly worked with local drivers to help ensure that customer service standards were always high.
The drivers work via an online APP and so nothing is done manually anymore. That said, the situation with a lack of drivers appears to be a risk for the whole trade currently as Sarah states, “With so many drivers left with no choice but to leave the trade over the past two years and try their hand at something new, inevitably, some have not returned.
This is a significant bandwidth problem for the trade, and we are not unaffected by this.” Drivers it seems, like many other similar trades such as HGV drivers are in short supply which now means that even the MD is driving to meet demand. “I am returning to driving for the first time in almost five years, I have no choice, such is the situation with driver capacity” Sarah goes on to say.
When asked what could be done to help the situation Sarah stated that in her opinion a range of measures could be brought in around licencing to help fast track drivers that have perhaps previously held licences to get back on the road and so avoid the inevitable red tape and delays that some drivers have had to endure when getting licences renewed.
“This is not an inexpensive business to get into if you are a newbie driver, what with the high cost of cars these days, insurance, licensing costs, etc, many new drivers are simply put off by the up-front cost of entering the trade. That said, we offer help in terms of advice and tips to anyone who is thinking about entering the trade – I believe we have all have a role and responsibility to do this now across the trade.”
The Impact of Online Bookings
Stansted Travel Service is proud of its online presence. The business moved onto our bespoke dispatch and driver APP system back in 2015/16. At that time Sarah stated that very few companies of their size had such technology. She went onto to say, “I guess we always felt the trade would go this way.
Online bookings are now how most customers in the main want to book cars, rather than making phone calls and they like the speed/convenience of online booking too.” With a range of websites, APPs and social media related booking offers, the business continues to champion new ways for customers to book their transfer needs from or to Stansted Airport.
“We believe that online booking is more dynamic and transparent, and our drivers enjoy the convenience and freedom a driver APP affords them when accepting or declining work offers – it’s a win, win for everyone really.” So, what about the future?
Sarah went on to be clear that online technology and a more sustainable business is where the trade is heading, “We will start to think about a UBER style APP very soon as we want to be able offer customers both a comprehensive pre-booked and on demand service. We only really cover pre-booked currently and whilst this works for many of our customers, it doesn’t work for everyone.”
The future of EV
“This is definitely on the horizon but not yet”. Plans for electric vehicles have yet to be actioned at Stansted Travel Services and Sarah goes on to say, “Once we have confidence that the infrastructure exists, then I think EVs will certainly be on the agenda. Yes, they are all the rage in the big metropolitan areas, but in the areas we cover we need complete confidence in car range and I don’t believe that this exists right now.”
Stansted Airport Growth
Prior to COVID-19 Stansted Airport was on a significant growth trajectory and had plans for a new arrivals hall. When asked about the future of the airport, Sarah remained upbeat about the prospects of an airport that has built its reputation around no frills/great value travel for its customers, “Stansted is a still a great airport for customers seeking cheap flights and so the demand for transfers will always be there.
Even through parts of the pandemic I was surprised how resilient the airport has been and that is a credit to everyone that works or is involved with supporting the airport.” The Stansted Travel Services therefore has a potentially rosy future as it starts to rebuild after COVID-19 and continues to service passengers to and from the airport in 2022 and onwards.
When asked about the future more generally, Sarah is quietly confident that the business will gradually grow to once again be at Pre-Covid levels and said “It won’t happen quickly but customers want to travel again and so we expect numbers to continually grow this this year and we will do what we have always done; maintain our high quality of service standards, maintain high standards when it comes to vehicle presentation, and afford customers online tools so that they are always able to pre-book their transfers online in advance of their arrival into the airport.”
When asked about potential partnerships, Sarah appeared to be open minded, “We have been a relatively small, independent operator for many years but even in the past few years we have recognised the need to partner from time to time where we can be assured that our standards are maintained.
Only last year we linked up with Airport Transfers UK to assist us with airport bookings from Stansted and to other UK airports and we can see work with an aggregator like this as being very helpful for scaling up the business again.” The challenges around drivers, the impact of rising costs, the emergence of EVs and the continued aggregation of the sector don’t appear to be too off putting to Stansted Travel Services as they look to continue to provide a reliable, quality service to their local custom base around Stansted Airport for years to come.
Sarah Walton is Managing Director of Stansted Travel Services which operates quality private hire and chauffeur services in and around the Stansted Airport area in north Essex.