New chauffeur-hailing service seeks to challenge Uber, Lyft for city rides

March 2, 2021

Berlin-based Blacklane—an upscale ride-hailing company in which  Daimler has invested—rolled out its inner-city services in New York City on March 1—seeking to challenge the black car services of rivals Uber and Lyft as the coronavirus pandemic continues to reshape the industry, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The firm was founded by Jens Wohltorf and Frank Steuer in 2011. As frequent travelers, they saw a need for a single global professional chauffeur service. They had a vision to create “a smarter way to book and manage rides”—something affordable, reliable, and efficient. Blacklane has grown from a two-man operation in Berlin to an international crew of over 400 people with satellite offices in Singapore, Los Angeles, Dubai, and Brisbane.

Indeed, after New York City, the service is slated to expand to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Berlin, Milan, Singapore, Dubai and other locations throughout the month, Wohltorf told Journal.

Blacklane is aiming to serve a narrow part of the ride-hailing market that targets business customers. It uses chauffeur-driven premium or luxury vehicles and offers services such as handling luggage, opening doors for passengers, and other amenities.

The ride-hailing industry was hit hard by the pandemic when lockdowns brought mass transportation to a halt. Uber and Lyft said in February that ride bookings had halved in the fourth quarter, compared with a year earlier.

The industry has adapted the Journal notes: Uber’s food-delivery service helped it weather the trough in its core offering. Blacklane’s new inner-city service is part of a similar effort—using existing drivers who previously only served the airports to offer the same chauffeured service for rides in the cities where they operate.

While Uber and Lyft dominate the broader ride-hailing market, the much-smaller Blacklane initially sought to carve a niche with an app offering chauffeur-driven rides to and from airports, which at latest count was available in 300 cities world-wide.

That business came to a halt when the virus grounded most air travel. So in December, Blacklane started an intercity service in the U.S. to attract business travelers wary of taking crowded trains and short-haul flights. Travelers can book a Blacklane driver for a trip from New York to Boston for $399, about half the cost of an Uber or Lyft ride on the same route.

With the new inner-city service, Blacklane is hoping to attract the same business, safety-conscious audience. It pairs a traditional, luxury limousine service with the convenience of a booking app.

“Being dependent on travel and airports, we were on the front-line of the pandemic,” said Wohltorf, pointing out that a revival of international travel was still on the distant horizon. “But cities are back; they are mobile. There is good recovery of inner-city mobility.”

Mr. Wohltorf and his investors had been targeting a potential initial public offering next year, but they have put off the plan until 2023 at the earliest, he told the Journaln.

“The longer we wait the more valuable we become and the more impact we will have. There is no reason for hectic,” he said.

Research contact: @WSJ

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