How to Launch a Shuttle Service in a Car Dealership in 2022

by Kristine on May 26, 2022

A Step-by-Step Guide for Fixed Operations Directors, Service, and Parts Managers, General Managers, and Dealer Principals

So you’re looking to launch a courtesy shuttle? You won’t regret it! That being said, getting started is no small task. It's time-consuming, requires expertise in various areas, and can be challenging to coordinate with other departments and teams within your organization. But launching a successful shuttle service is worth the effort. It can help you attract new customers, retain current ones, and improve your overall brand image as an industry leader.

This step-by-step guide will walk you through the process. We’ve put everything we have learned from hundreds of dealerships, including some of the top dealerships in the country, plus tips and tricks gathered from helping those dealers perform over 1.3 million shuttle rides!

In this guide, we'll cover everything from initial research through post-launch evaluation and refinement, so that you have all the information you need to make informed decisions along the way. 

Jump to the section that interests you.

Phase 1: What Exactly is a Shuttle Service? 
Phase 2: Hire the Right Drivers
Phase 3: Identify Your Customers' Needs and Wants
Phase 4: Starting the Shuttle Service
Phase 5: Implement Your Plan & Measure Results

Let's dive into each phase in more detail.

Phase 1: What Exactly is a Shuttle Service?

What is a Courtesy Shuttle Service?

A shuttle service is a dealer-operated service that transports customers back and forth from the dealership to their homes or workplace.

Customers who wait at the dealership (often called “waiters”) spend approximately 5 hours at the dealership waiting for their vehicle to be serviced. Those who don’t wish to wait in the lounge need to be picked up, dropped off, or both. Without offering pickup and dropoff service, these customers will have to find alternative transportation, such as a taxi or a ride from a significant other. This hassle can sour the service experience before it begins.

The dealership shuttle service is not a new concept. It's been around for decades and is an excellent way to move customers from one location to another.

So why should you consider adding a shuttle service to your facility? Here are the top four reasons:

  1. Customers who leave the dealership spend more on repairs. It’s that simple. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. You’re sitting in the lounge, waiting for an oil change that you think will only take an hour before you go to work. Your Service Advisor comes up to you and says: “We noticed when we brought your car back that your engine is making a knocking noise. We aren’t sure what it is, but we think it should be looked at and addressed.” Surely, you don’t have time to get that done today as you hadn’t planned accordingly, and you need your car to get to work. You say “No, thank you,” and the dealership doesn’t perform the service.

    What are the odds you will get that knocking noise fixed at the same dealership? They may be concerned about the cost and decide to not get it fixed, or perhaps take it to another dealership or independent shop closer to their house/work. As a manager, you always want to make sure that you are capturing the business that is available to you and sitting in your service bay. By shuttling a customer home, you have now given the customer the space that they need to be able to say “Yes” to those additional repairs because they are already at home or work, and thus do not need the car right away. This helps turn your shuttle from a cost-center to a profit-center. 
  1. Your customers will love it! Shuttle service makes it easier for them to get in and out of your dealership quickly — which means they're more likely to come back again soon. In addition, they'll appreciate being able to relax while someone else does all the driving. This makes the entire process more enjoyable.  According to J.D. Power, customers who leave the dealership rate their experience 17 points higher than “waiters”!

    A satisfied customer is more likely to make repeat purchases from you and tell others about their positive experience. Having a shuttle service also means that customers will be more likely to choose your dealership when they need something done because they know you'll care for them. Since many dealerships don't offer shuttle service, it's an easy way for you to stand out within your local area.
  1. You'll save money on gas. A shuttle running on route-optimization software will save you fuel costs on loaners and one-off trips. With rising gas prices, this will be important to keeping your shuttle costs down.

    In addition, electric vehicles can be a great option if running a small shuttle service or other short routes. They're more fuel-efficient than gas-powered vehicles, so you'll save money on operating costs over time. You'll reduce your carbon footprint since electric shuttles produce zero emissions. If you can do so, we recommend an EV as they are more efficient than traditional buses or vans. Additionally, your “green” choice can be an important consideration, as sustainability becomes increasingly important to customers and employees alike.

    The shuttle is often a great way for a customer to interact with a new vehicle. Did your brand just release a new electric car? Using this as a shuttle will expose your customers to this new technology and make the transition to electric feel attainable. Why not kick off an equity mining opportunity with this information? The possibilities are endless.
  1. Save money compared to ride-share exclusive programs and retake control of the experience. Are you spending $10-15k a month on your ride-share programs like Uber and Lyft? One or two shuttles running on optimizing software is a much more inexpensive venture, especially if you are using an electric vehicle.

    Additionally, when you put a customer in a stranger’s vehicle, you lose control of the experience that they are receiving. You do not know what condition that car is in if that driver shares the same values. 

Phase 2: Hire the Right Drivers

If you’re starting from scratch, more than likely, you don’t have shuttle drivers on staff. Here are some of the common questions when getting started:

What makes a good shuttle driver?

Aside from the obvious, like a driver’s license and a clean driving record, the biggest drivers of success are personality and knowledge of the area. Having a friendly driver that is familiar with your dealership’s process and comfortable driving around different parts of town is incredibly important. The shuttle is an extension of the dealership, and a friendly shuttle driver helps keep your awesome customer experience going. On the flip side, a rude, curt driver may upset or frustrate customers, especially on long rides. 

How do I hire the right one? 

Aside from traditional channels, internal hires and referrals are a great place to start. Many Service Advisors may know people who are interested in being a shuttle driver, or you may already have a porter that wants to drive the shuttle. While hourly rates vary from region to region, it is not uncommon to see many retirees looking for shuttle driver jobs, as they get to socialize and stay occupied while receiving benefits. Additionally, a shuttle driver can be an excellent entry-level position for someone who is looking to get into automotive and is passionate about cars and customer service.

How many do I need?

How many drivers you will need will depend on how many hours you need to fill. Once you determine the hours of operation for the shuttle, you can determine how many hours will need to be covered by either full-time or part-time employees. From there, a typical shuttle driver can do 10-15 shuttle rides per day depending on the area.

Fun fact - a shuttle driver using Quickride can do anywhere from 20-30 rides per day! This helps reduce costs and keep your drivers efficiently on the road.

What are some other things to look out for?

If you decide to go with a shuttle management software like Quickride, it may be beneficial to hire a driver that is comfortable with smartphone apps. Although Quickride’s Driver App is designed with smartphone novices in mind, you may encounter driver candidates who are completely resistant to using technology on a daily basis. From years of working with dealerships, we can confidently say that this is a must-have, regardless of using shuttle management software or not. Being able to contact the driver and having them use real-time traffic apps to run their routes is a necessity in a post-smartphone world.

Phase 3: Identify Your Customers' Needs and Wants

Get to know your and competitors’ services customers

Before you jump into a shuttle service, do some research on what your nearest competitors are doing regarding customer mobility. Read the reviews that their customers are leaving on Yelp and Google, and find opportunities in their process gaps that you can improve upon. If customers are praising certain parts of their shuttle process, try to incorporate those. Take the good and leave the bad behind, and then make sure everyone knows about your new shuttle service and how it is superior to your competitors’ service. 

Now that you’ve done some research into what your customers like and don’t like, you can create a list of must-haves that will ensure your customers love your new shuttle. For example:

  • What type of customer chooses a shuttle? If you notice in your research that customers who come in for oil changes don’t take the shuttle, but those who come in on warranty work do, target those customers accordingly.
  • How often do they use these services?  Don’t be surprised if you see customers use the shuttle consistently – some customers even have a relationship with their shuttle driver!
  • What concerns do they have about using shuttle services?  If a common complaint at a competitor is the wait time, shuttle radius, or hours, make sure that you address those concerns early.
  • What do your customers really want? Your intuition may be that most customers want a ride-share experience, but many people simply do not feel comfortable going in a stranger’s vehicle, no matter how convenient it may be. Reassure those customers about how the trust they have in your dealership extends to your shuttle and that you are in control of the experience.
  • What do they think of your current mobility offerings? Check your CSI survey responses and see if your customers are consistently requesting a feature or providing feedback on your current services. 
  • Are there other services that the customer wants or needs, in addition to a shuttle service? (For example, car wash and detailing packages, virtual sales consultant, etc.). If so, how can you use these additional services to improve the customer experience and generate revenue for fixed operations? Throw some coupons in the shuttle for customers who use it since we know that customers that use a shuttle are more likely to spend more on their repair orders.

Target your customers.

Lastly, you need to choose a customer base for the shuttle. These are the people who will benefit the most from your shuttle service and will naturally be the ones who are most likely to use it.

Use your Primary Market Area (PMA) provided by your manufacturer, combined with a map of your sales and service customers, to determine a mileage radius for the shuttle. You are going to want to make sure that you are covering your area, while avoiding parts of town that might bog down the shuttle service if there is an area with, say, historically terrible traffic and low customer presence, be it work or home.

Phase 4: Starting the Shuttle Service

Create your own shuttle service policy.

Develop a shuttle service policy, a document that serves as the foundation for your service and should, at a minimum, answer the following questions: 

  • Who qualifies for the shuttle? Is it open to all customers or just those spending more than a certain amount on repairs? We recommend opening it up to all service customers.
  • What are the hours of operation for the shuttle? Make them known from the beginning to avoid complaints.
  • What constitutes a “long wait time”? This may take some time to figure out once you get up and running, but have a backup plan if the shuttle is too busy to pick-up all customers in a timely manner.
  • Determine your mileage radius (See step 3 for more suggestions).
  • Assign owners to parts of the process. Who is going to be creating and dispatching rides? Who is going to oversee the program on a day-to-day basis?
  • What does success look like to you? What metrics are going to be determining if this program is successful?
  • If applicable, how am I going to track reimbursements from the manufacturer for customers receiving rides that came in for warranty? Do not leave free money on the table! Figure out this process now and make sure that you are getting the money you are entitled to from the start.

Find out what type of vehicle works best for you.

You'll need a vehicle that can accommodate multiple passengers at once. If it's just one person, make sure the vehicle is comfortable enough for them. If there are more than two people, then make sure that the vehicle has enough space for everyone to sit comfortably without being cramped together. Make sure the seats are adjustable. Suppose someone wants to lie down completely flat on their back. In that case, it can happen easily without any issues from being too close together (such as tripping over each other).

As mentioned before, an Electric Vehicle may be the best option as most Quickride shuttles do not drive more than 70 miles per day. And again, if you have a new vehicle that you can use as a rolling new car demo, it’s even better! Your shuttle driver almost becomes more of a product expert.

Let your customers know about it.

Marketing is a great equalizer, it really doesn't matter if you have the best shuttle service in your city. 

Make sure to get the word out about your new shuttle service. This can include advertising in traditional media (print, radio, TV) to using social media, texting, and email. Each channel should be used strategically so that it allows you to track its effectiveness at generating leads and customers for your service business. Do not forget about marketing to existing customers who have already come into your dealership and are familiar with you. These are people who already trust you and know where to find you when they need additional services performed on their vehicles. 

Ensure that any messages delivered through your marketing efforts are consistent with what customers will encounter when your new shuttle service is launched. 

Work out the logistics.

Route optimization/shuttle management software, like Quickride, can help you answer many of the questions that come with making your shuttle policy. Quickride generates the fastest route possible based on where vehicles, drivers, and customers are located at any given time. This minimizes wait times for your customers while also helping you determine how many drivers (and vehicles) you will need to provide efficient service.

If you decide that it makes sense to offer an on-demand shuttle service, you must track the location of each shuttle vehicle at all times. Otherwise, when a customer calls for a ride home or back to work, there's no way for the team to know if there is an available vehicle nearby. Using live tracking software like Quickride, staff will be able to see where the shuttles get an update on the ETA if any vehicle has fallen behind schedule due to traffic conditions or road closures.

Phase 5: Implement Your Plan & Measure Results

Now that you've set the stage for your shuttle service, it's time to implement your plan and measure the results. Here are some steps that will help you get started:

  1. Create a detailed implementation plan. This should include a schedule of implementation activities and tasks broken down by week/month/quarter over the next year and a budget for each activity or task. Start by creating a timeline that outlines every step of your deployment process. This should include:
    • A timeline for ordering and setting up the shuttles.
    • A timeline for training employees on how to use the shuttles
    • A schedule for rolling out the service to all employees at once or in phases based on department or location.
  1. Make sure you have all the resources you need to implement your plan: financial resources, human resources (people), technology/equipment, etc. If not, make adjustments to ensure they're in place before moving forward with the rest of your plan. If they're already in place but need improvement or updating, make those changes now to be ready when needed later on down the road.
  1. Once everything is in place and ready to go, conduct a "dry run" exercise before launching any new programs or initiatives (including any associated marketing campaigns). Simulate ongoing activities as if they were already taking place. Don’t expect to get it down perfectly right away! Most dealerships take 2-4 weeks to get the process fully dialed in.

Staff and train your team.

Empower your people and ensure that you have the right people with the right skills on your team. When getting started with software like Quickride, make sure to slowly roll it out so that everyone is comfortable using the new software. Shuttle drivers may need the most time to adjust if they are not used to working with technology, but Quickride ensures that drivers are trained and all questions are answered before getting started.

Lastly, ensure that your team is aware of the goals so that everyone is driving the shuttle service to success.

Ask for feedback.

Use the first 30-60 days as a learning period. Ask for feedback regularly from customers to ensure that the program is working as expected. If you are using Quickride, you can use the “Reviews” feature to see what customers are saying.. Constructive criticism can be just as beneficial as positive feedback.

Mobility Is the Way of the Future.

That's why shuttles matter.

Mobility needs are no longer limited to millennials; Ride-sharing is one of the fastest-growing industries globally. Urbanization and the rise of apps like DoorDash and Postmates have gotten your customers used to having visibility on where their drivers are.

While self-driving cars are on the horizon, if you're in business today, you know that mobility is about more than just autonomous vehicles. It's about convenience, efficiency, and customer service. And for dealerships across America, shuttle services are one of the best ways to meet those needs.

Mobility is the way of the future, and shuttles are a vital part of that future. Shuttles can reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They also offer an opportunity for dealerships to gain new customers

It's no longer a question of whether you should offer a shuttle service at your dealership—it's a matter of when. Offer a shuttle service at your dealership, and make sure to implement car dealership software that will help you manage your service and delight your customers. 

Topics: customer experience, dealership shuttle service, centralized shuttle management system, service scheduling