Europe’s Black Car Problem May Be Yours

The pandemic has disrupted travel in numerous ways, and the black car industry hasn’t been immune. Although booking a car with a driver tends to be costly, in many instances, it offers the most comfortable and convenient way to get from place to place in Europe

Some cities are difficult to reach by train, plane, or bus,” explains Candice Criscione, a travel planner based in Tuscany who has been helping travelers plan vacations for 18 years.

“I recommend noleggio con conducente (a rental with driver) when my clients visit countryside destinations, like wineries or small villages, or if they have a lot of luggage or simply want more flexibility in their schedules.”

Many travelers also prefer European limousine services with English-speaking drivers to get to and from airports, and for private shore excursions at cruise ports.

The impact of increased demand and low supply

Mike Coletta, an analyst with travel industry research group Phocuswright, suggests that several factors have coalesced to make it more challenging and expensive to book a black car in Europe.

“During the height of the pandemic, many owners of limos downsized their fleets to match the precipitous and prolonged decline in demand,” says Coletta. “A very similar thing happened with rental car companies,” he adds.

With the surge in “revenge travel” that emerged after declines in infection rates, along with new vaccines and treatments for COVID, the industry began facing formidable supply chain issues.

“With a shortage of vehicles and labor market disruptions, affecting both drivers and call centers, the chauffeured car industry is having a problem ramping up again,” says Coletta.

He cites another reason for increased black car demand. “During the pandemic, many travelers perceived a chauffeured car as safer than public transportations or taxis.”

Travelers who previously relied on rental cars are finding that supply issues, higher gas prices, and increased wage demands have also driven up the costs of renting a car. “Along with the cost of car rentals, the rates for chauffeured cars have definitely increased,” says Criscione. “Services that I’m booking now are up to 20% from last year, mostly because of our high gas prices.”

“Many drivers who left their jobs during the pandemic, haven’t come back,” says David Litwak, co-founder and chairman of Mozio, a global ground transportation search engine that compares limousines, taxis, trains, shuttles, and buses.

”As on-demand rides from car-sharing services became harder to hail, or less alluring as prices as much as doubled, the demand for advanced reservation chauffeurs has skyrocketed,” says Litwak. Several of our suppliers can’t hire enough drivers to meet demand and have had to put reservations on pause at peak times.”

What can travelers do?

Experts agree that to avoid disappointment, travelers shouldn’t wait until the last minute to book a black car reservation, especially during peak travel periods. “If you wait, the only options may be public transportation, long taxi lines, or surge pricing,” says Litwak.

Shop around and compare costs (and reviews) online. Litwak points out that many chauffeured driver services use their own drivers in certain cities and outsource in others; the latter may entail a 20-30% markup. Using a local service can result in cost-saving.

Coletti also suggests checking out travel forums on Facebook and Trip Advisor for personal recommendations.

Work with a travel advisor or tour operators, who typically have a roster of pre-vetted, experienced drivers, says Charles Neville, of JayWay Travel.

Lock in your rate; most companies honor prices for pre-booked services. “I always recommend booking transfers as far in advance as possible, ” says Criscione. “Rates will go up, but they rarely come down.”

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