9 Reasons Why Event Transportation Can Be a Nightmare (and how to fix it)

by Richard Fertig

It’s unanimous.

We hear it time and time again.

“The thing that keeps me up at night is transportation.”

The question we ask is “why?” Why are other professional trades and services more reliable? More accountable? More in touch with the rest of the production? And, conversely, why is transportation so out of touch? Is there something inherently more challenging about transportation and the logistics than say, catering a four-course meal for the same number of people? Similarly, is floral design and photography a straightforward endeavor?

We think not. We believe that all of the various trades that a professional event or wedding planner requires to pull off a magnificent world class event, have incredible skills and domain expertise in their chosen field. We also think there are discernible levels of skills and aesthetics that individuals may prefer for their corporate event or wedding.

Not necessarily better, but more appropriate for their design aesthetic. We don’t witness event and wedding planners micro-managing these other trades, but rather recognizing and appreciating their expertise and allowing them to work within the production schedule and previously agreed upon design parameters.

Yet, for some inexplicable reason, transportation is different. Likely because it is critically important, and is the “first and last impression” for guests / attendees, and because every planner has “nightmare transportation stories,” we witness massive resources thrown at this frustration hoping to improve the situation. So, let’s analyze what about transportation specifically creates this lack of confidence and success.

  1. Not Included in the Design Phase

This is a major flaw and perhaps an industry shortcoming.

Generally speaking, we see event and wedding planners handling the logistics, routing, scheduling of the entire transportation program and handing a manifest or spreadsheet to be executed blindly. Perhaps this occurs because over time planners have realized their questions and design needs are met with blank stares or over promises and disappointment.

But, if you want a successful ground program, you need to invest in hiring professionals that listen, add value, and design their own program (in partnership and with your approval) in order to ensure success. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t instruct the tent company on how exactly to build the tent, right? You would discuss the aesthetic, the placement, listen to concerns about the wind and the ground underneath, and continue to discuss together until a mutual solution was agreed upon. The same should be true for ground transportation.

You should seek a partner you can rely on, whose professional opinion you value and who can listen to a complex series of needs and design a solution that works. We’ve participated in events that require new roads to be built, trees to be removed, entire staging areas to be created, a fleet of ferries to transport our speciality vehicles to a private island, etc. This is not plain vanilla and should not be planned by people who aren’t experts in these matters.

2. Variability

While every professional trade has some variability (“the flowers don’t look as fresh as I want”), transportation is a logistic nightmare with lots of room for error including: chauffeur error or unpreparedness, unexpected traffic, accidents, unfavorable weather conditions, vehicle malfunctions, etc. However, since the variability can be broken down to core components and analyzed individually, proper planning can easily overcome these traditional excuses. In addition, you can prepare for the unexpected and have backup plans and procedures so that clients remain unaware of any snafus that may have otherwise caused delay, or worse.

One suggestion here — always have at least one extra vehicle on hand. We highly recommend having at least one additional SUV standing by to transport equipment, planners, the CEO or mother of the bride on short notice. We can’t tell you how invaluable this little extra preparedness is and how you look like a genius when you can accommodate last minute requests / changes without missing a beat.

3. Run by Operators

Ground transportation companies are typically run by operators. Rarely are transportation companies run by a world traveler and very few have ambition beyond transporting clients from A to B and staying busy. Most companies have sub specialties generally described as “transfers” (going to and from the airport to hotels all day long) or Charter buses that have a pre-routed itinerary from A to B. Accordingly, success in an operator’s mind could have little in common with success from a client perspective or an event or wedding planner’s perspective. The goals are very different which is often apparent AFTER the event when the transportation company thinks everything went great and the clients and planners feel just the opposite.

4. Considered Behind the Curtain

This is a self-reinforcing principle. Because transportation is problematic and run by operators with little hospitality or event production experience, planners typically consider them ‘back of house’ or ‘behind the curtain’ trades. Therefore, if and when a question arises, most transportation companies don’t feel comfortable pulling the planner aside with a quick diagnosis of the problem and a couple of potential solutions. Instead, they hope the problem will go away unnoticed which is most definitely a weak strategy and not one to bet the farm on.

5. Limited Hospitality Experience

Transportation companies are super focused on one thing: getting you from A to B. Hopefully safely, and on time.

But, there is little energy, training or understanding of the service component of the business — the hospitality. In every other service, the professionals are groomed, friendly, hospitable and chosen for their “front of the house” capabilities. However, transportation as an industry doesn’t offer many viable options and therefore, does not go through similar scrutiny and often is picked by low budget.

If you lower your criteria, you can expect a lower quality service. And, if you know you are getting a lower quality service, you will spend additional resources attempting to fix or overcome that weakness by assigning multiple junior staffers (which has additional costs and implications for you, your staff, and may even result in client dissatisfaction).

6. Focused on A to B Transport

Ground transportation companies tend to do anything you ask of them since they all revolve around driving passengers from here to there. However, the vast majority of transportation companies do the same thing every day. And, it is NOT high end luxury ground transportation for Fortune 500 companies or the highest end wedding planners. It tends to be much more mundane, straightforward and requiring little attention to detail. By way of analogy, if you were the coach of a baseball team competing in the World Series, you wouldn’t start your catcher as a pitcher even though he has a great arm, would you? Why would you use a corporate airport to hotel specialist or a charter bus company to provide custom transportation on game day?

You get one chance to impress all of your guests and get them where they need to go on time, in great spirits, with no need to worry about anything transportation related. Yet, generalists are utilized with junior planners thrown in to supervise a poorly designed transportation program ‘hoping’ all will go smoothly.

7. Low Budget

It’s a circular argument here — because transportation generally disappoints, clients and event / wedding planners want to spend as little money as possible. And, we are all aware of the cliche (but true) saying “you get what you pay for”. If you save money on the ground transportation so you can get that over the top band or have a raw bar, by definition you are prioritizing which trade is more important to the event and yet, in doing so, are jeopardizing the event itself and perhaps getting the party started on the wrong foot with disgruntled or frustrated guests.

8. Zero On-site Coordination

Often we see poor judgement caused by budget considerations whereby the planner will use multiple junior staffers to coordinate and dispatch all of the transportation. However, that is not their expertise and they are unfamiliar with the vehicles, the chauffeurs, the routing, difficult conditions that may delay the service such as poor lighting or one lane bridges, etc. In addition, we’ve found that chauffeurs communicate best with professional coordinators and dispatchers who can quickly and in uniform common language communicate their exact specifications and consequently, they are able to execute.

Most chauffeurs are unable to listen to lengthy and long winded instructions and distill down the action items. We highly recommend spending a bit more and hiring professionals to coordinate your ground transportation program. The cost is negligible in the overall cost of the event and may, in fact, be some of the best money you spend.

9. Zero Dry Runs

We highly recommend spending some money upfront as an ‘insurance policy’. By having your transportation team arrive on location at least once, ideally twice (we’ve done as many as 4 when needed due to challenging conditions) and do the actual trip. Monitor how long it takes, traffic flow, tight turns, limited parking / staging, low clearance, and other potential bottlenecks. Doing so in advance, and planning and communicating clearly to the team BEFORE game day, will make the actual process flow much smoother with less variability (another problematic element discussed earlier).

Do not consider this an extra cost or an expense. Consider this a must for anything requiring exacting specifications or with a degree of difficulty. You pay for your caterer to prepare a tasting meal to select your food and beverage without hesitation. Why should the transportation getting all of your clients or guests to the event be considered any less important?

If any of these (or all!) resonate with you, we’d love to discuss our Design and Production Agency focused on flawless ground transportation with you. We are fortunate to work with the most influential people on the planet and have been providing the highest quality design and production solutions globally. Consider us an extension of your team. Outsource your biggest headache to Event and Wedding professionals (like you do every other aspect of the production) to experts who “get it”, care, and make your client’s aesthetics a reality. We listen, we care, we provide a full service solution from design to production. We’d love to hear more about your needs and develop a strong B2B partnership.