So you're thinking of launching an airport shuttle service? For the right person in the right market, it's a business idea that could really take off.
However, there's a lot of preparation to do before you can get your plans off the ground – from researching your market to passing your minibus driving test to choosing taxi insurance.
Read on for our guide to everything you need to get your new service off to a flying start!
Many passengers find that travelling between countries is relatively easy these days: air travel is generally smooth, efficient and well-priced.
What’s sometimes trickier is getting between the airport and home or the final destination. Car parking or taxis are expensive, and buses can be infrequent, slow and over-crowded. Many airports have no direct rail links.
Airport shuttles are a great option, occupying the middle ground between taxis and buses. Drivers meet flights, guarantee seats for all passengers, and drop them off or pick them up at an agreed place near their start or end point.
As shuttles are shared services, they are cheaper than private taxis – just what passengers need if they’ve blown their holiday budgets!
So does your idea for a shuttle service really have wings? You need to start by thinking hard about whether it's a good fit for you.
Obviously, you need to be an excellent driver who enjoys time on the road. Remember that many flights you will be booked to meet will arrive late in the evening, so it's essential you're comfortable with driving at night.
You also need to enjoy dealing with people, and be capable of communicating with travellers from all over the world.
It helps to be physically fit, as you'll be doing a lot of luggage lifting.
And you'll need a business head on your shoulders too, to make sure your service keeps on the right side of the law and repays you for your hard work.
An airport shuttle service is a business – and that means abiding by rules and regulations concerning tax, employment law, banking, taxi insurance and several other key considerations.
If the attraction of setting up an airport shuttle service is that you’re a people person who loves driving, then the business side of things can seem quite a headache.
And if you’re better at blue sky thinking than spreadsheets, you might find that business planning brings you down to earth with a bump.
But don’t let red tape put the brakes on your plans: there are people out there who can advise on or even take care of the bureaucracy so you can focus on what you do best.
Contact a business advisor to get the admin low-down. Many areas have free or low-cost services for those who are just starting out, particularly if you’ve been unemployed for a while. Your bank might also be able to help if you need a loan to cover set-up costs.
A good advisor can help you draw up a business plan, working with you to think through your ambitions and make sure you start off in the right gear!
If you already run a taxi service, you may be aware that there’s a high demand for trips to the airport. That’s probably what inspired you to think about setting up an airport shuttle in the first place.
But actually launching your service is going to require a significant investment on your part, so it’s essential that you carry out some market research.
Clearly, you need to make sure your local airport has enough flights to justify the service. For many regional airports, peak times are in the early mornings and late evenings, so make sure you can cover these hours.
Next, consider whether there is much demand to your town or city, or to a big tourist attraction nearby.
What are the existing public transport links like? How much is car parking? All that will affect demand for your service.
You also need to check out the competition. Are there other shuttle services already on offer?
There’s a lot to think about to get your shuttle service up and running.
You’ll need to meet licensing requirements for your service.
Firstly, you will require a special driver's licence. To drive a minibus, you’ll need to take a specialist driving course leading to a Passenger Carrying Vehicle (PCV) licence. This is part of the D1 licence category.
You’ll also need a permit from your local authority to run a private hire vehicle service, which allows you to pick up pre-booked passengers only. Each local authority has slightly different requirements, so contact them directly to find out more.
If you’d prefer to pick up passengers without bookings, you’ll need a black cab licence, also from your local authority. However, these are harder to come by.
You’ll also need to research any requirements that your airport has. There are likely to be charges for operating from their site, such as parking costs. Contact their business team to find out more.
You can buy your vehicle outright or lease it from a specialist firm.
While you can purchase second-hand minibuses pretty cheaply, you need to factor in reliability. If your vehicle breaks down, you will be not only spending money on repairs, but also losing business and damaging your brand’s reputation.
If you cannot afford to buy a top-quality vehicle, or you want to test out the market before committing, then it might be best to lease one for a fixed period of time. Generally, the longer the lease, the lower your monthly cost.
Leased vehicles usually work out as more expensive, but include costs such as MOT, service and maintenance, road tax and taxi insurance. If you’re setting up a new business, you might be glad to have these issues accounted for, leaving you to focus on getting custom.
The best vehicles for shuttle services are minibuses of nine to 16 seats plus driver.
Whichever vehicle you choose, make sure it has plenty of space for passengers and their luggage. Remember – you’ll need a lot more baggage space than for the average round-town trip.
Consider how you’ll fit in up to 16 loads of luggage, perhaps including pushchairs and skis! And what about fragile or breakable items?
It’s wise to ask passengers when they book your service how much luggage they’re carrying, to ensure you can fit everything in safely. Consider imposing an extra charge for especially large items.
Remember that passengers may require wheelchairs, and you are legally obliged to carry these at no extra cost.
Consider also how your vehicle should look inside and out. If you’re targeting business customers, you’ll want to be at the more luxury end of the market.
If you think holidaying families will make up most of your custom, then go for something durable and easy to clean. Remember to carry a few child seats too, to keep all your customers safe on their journeys.
Your vehicle will be your biggest investment, so make sure it’s covered with suitable taxi insurance.
While PCV training is essential for would-be shuttle drivers, there are other courses which are highly advisable.
One is health and safety training. Shuttle drivers are likely to be doing lots of heavy lifting of baggage and wheelchairs, so it’s vital they stay fit. Good training will show you how to lift items safely, allowing you to assist passengers with young children or those with disabilities, protecting you from injury and allowing you to keep the shuttle service running.
You might also consider customer service training and disability awareness training to give your service a competitive edge.
Finally, if you find you’re getting many customers from one particular country, why not learn a few phrases of greeting in their language? That will make your service welcoming, and help you build up your reputation through word-of-mouth recommendations.
Once you’ve got your vehicle ready to go, it’s time to turn your attention to the business administration side of things. How are customers going to contact you and book your service?
Increasingly, people want to book online and through apps – particularly if they’re coming from overseas. However, some will want to book by phone or email.
Can you employ office staff to keep track of bookings? Or will requests come through directly to the driver?
Either way, make sure your system can respond to bookings promptly and securely.
Now you need to consider how much you will charge your passengers.
If there are comparable services in your area, use these as a benchmark. Don’t be tempted to undercut them – you’ll struggle to cover your own costs, which will lead quickly to business disaster.
Consider all your costs: your vehicle, licences and permits, fuel, maintenance, driver training and taxi insurance.
If you’re offering set routes, you should fix prices for each route. If you’re planning to vary routes according to what your customers require, you’ll need to consider whether to charge per mile or per minute. Factor in waiting times too.
Once you’ve got your shuttle service in place, it’s time to turn your attention to the next step: finding customers!
A great way to get business is to forge a partnership with another company which requires transport for their clients or staff.
Hotels and conference centres offer obvious potential, while language schools and tour operators may also require airport transfers on a frequent basis. Approach those in your area to offer your services.
Large companies are also likely to require frequent airport trips for their staff and clients. Try contacting local businesses and universities to see if there is demand.
You could also offer your services to companies offering car parking for airports. These are often situated some distance from the airport, so passengers need shuttle services from their cars to the terminals.
Of course, as well as reaching out to customers, you’ll want them to find you.
If you’re just starting out, you might prefer to keep things simple. However, there will still be a few essential marketing costs you need to consider.
Establishing a memorable brand is crucial to getting customers to come to you. Choose a name that’s relevant to you and your business, and make sure it’s short and catchy. Get a graphic designer to design you a simple logo.
Then get your vehicle sign-written so you’re advertising your business wherever you go.
Get online, with a website that can take bookings, and social media to promote your business.
Finally, printed business cards and flyers are another great way to get the word out there. Distribute them at companies or around homes – wherever your potential travellers are likely to be.
Then after all your hard work, you can get ready to see your business take off! Enjoy your journey!
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