When Service and Safety Matter
It’s a moment most of us would dread, learning that your daughter got into the car of a ride-hailing service driver (or someone posing as a ride-hailing service driver) only to become another crime statistic. Despite the ride-hailing industry’s purported commitment to safety, the number of reported incidences of assaults on passengers continues to climb. Why? The likely culprit is Uber’s and Lyft’s tech-based safety solutions that focus on reactive measures, not proactive.
Sharing your location, for example, only works to tell people where you are being assaulted. It doesn’t prevent the attack. Nor does it identify the driver if you got into the wrong vehicle by mistake.
So, what is the real solution to safety? Taxis are not much better, while limo and chauffeur services are expensive and inconvenient, usually requiring 24 hours of advanced notice and a strict schedule — not exactly friendly to a spontaneous lifestyle.
“That’s why you need a private driver,” Jeff Hronchek told me.
After years of working in hospitality, Jeff founded J&E Private Drivers in 2014 to fill an important niche for clients in Fort Worth. But what is a private driver?
“A private driver is a single-person limo company. We have all the same insurance, permits and licensing as limo companies, but rarely have more than one vehicle. That means we are free to respond quickly, have less overhead (i.e., lower prices), can adapt on the fly, and are able to give preferential treatment to those we have relationships within our communities,” Jeff continued.
Kim Bartell, a Tanglewood Moms private Facebook group member, recently used Jeff for a trip to DFW airport. She told me that Jeff was “very professional” and shared stories about his wife and family.
“I felt very comfortable and never worried once I got in the car with Jeff,” she said. “I think he and his associates go above and beyond to make women feel safe when riding with them. With Uber, you never know what driver you will get, and it can be worrisome to get in the car with a stranger, especially if you are alone.”
But if private drivers are just individuals and not large companies, how can your driver be there for you if another client has reserved the same time slot?
“Networking,” Jeff said confidently. “If you know me, it is very easy to feel safe with the people I trust most in this industry. Even if I can’t be there personally, I will always ensure your safety.”
To meet the growing demand for his service, Jeff networks with dozens of relationship-minded drivers across DFW. Finding them, though, was not as simple as going to Google or Yelp due to the fact that they tend not to advertise but rather rely on referrals. Over the past few years, Jeff has accumulated his team through first-person conversations while they wait for passengers at Cowboys games, airports, or major events.
But this is the travel industry, right? What do you do when you land at an airport outside of DFW? Are you stuck again with no choice besides a ride share or a taxi?
“Most of what I do is to take my clients to and from the airports,” Jeff said. “But when they land elsewhere in the world I can’t be there for them, and, yes, they do have to find their own way. This is a major gap in my service that I am working to fill. I currently have made connections in 6 cities outside of DFW, and I’m actively growing that network with the goal of one day having every US airport covered.”
But he’s not stopping there. Jeff is using the same transportation insights that led to the success of J&E Private Drivers to draft a business plan for Private Drivers Inc. The idea is to create an online database of private drivers enabling anyone’s private driver to quickly build a multi-state network of like-minded professionals to refer clients to upon arriving at their flight destination.
“It will be like Match.com for private drivers,” he said with a laugh.
In many ways, the business idea creates a safe-haven for clients who prefer the relationship-based option. And with local relationships extending nationwide, the limousine/ride-sharing industry could lose big as private drivers earn the business of those who would rather not ride with a stranger.
“With Uber, you push a button and hope for the best,” Jeff noted. “Limos often require 24-hour notice. Both businesses present customers with underpaid drivers who may not be invested in the service they are providing. My customers have the best of all worlds: quick access to a ride and a driver they can trust.”
Edward Brown is a writing tutor and piano teacher. He is also an award-winning writer for the Fort Worth Weekly and volunteers for numerous Fort Worth nonprofits.