New Chauffeur-Hailing Service Seeks to Challenge Uber, Lyft in City Rides – The Wall Street Journal

BERLIN—Blacklane, an upscale ride-hailing company whose biggest investor is Daimler AG DMLRY 1.46% , is launching a new inner-city service in New York on Monday, seeking to challenge the black car services of rivals Uber and Lyft LYFT -0.38% as the coronavirus pandemic continues to reshape the industry.

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, Blacklane CEO and co-founder Jens Wohltorf told The Wall Street 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.

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The industry has adapted. 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 Mr. Wohltorf, who co-founded the company in 2011, saying 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 said.

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

Last month, Blacklane acquired a majority stake in Havn, the all-electric chauffeur service launched by Jaguar Land Rover in 2019, to help Blacklane carry out a transition to an all-electric fleet.

Write to William Boston at [email protected]

Corrections & Amplifications
Uber and Lyft said in February that ride bookings had halved in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier. An earlier version of this article incorrectly implied the statements were made in January. (Corrected on Feb. 28, 2021.)

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Appeared in the March 1, 2021, print edition as ‘New Service to Edge Into Uber, Lyft.’

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New Chauffeur-Hailing Service Seeks to Challenge Uber, Lyft in City Rides – The Wall Street Journal

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