OZOCar FAIL heads up

Being out at JFK the other night reminded me that I’ve been meaning to post this for awhile:

Looping back and forth to the airport(s) as much as I do, I was really looking forward to trying out OZOCar, the outfit that bills itself as “New York’s first eco-luxury private car service.” Not only does the firm rock a fleet of Priuses (Prii?) instead of the NYC car service stand-by, the regrettable Lincoln Town Car, but I’d heard that each of their cars sports ultrafast WiMax wireless broadband. This, obviously, is a hook baited with people like me in mind, and I bit.

You know what? The experience sucked so bad I’m not even willing to give them another chance. They failed both my major mission-critical requirements for a car service – picking me up on time, getting me to my destination on time – and most of the minor ones as well.

Let me first give credit where credit is due. The Prius itself was new, nimble, and clean. Even though it’s not designed as a fleet car-service vehicle, meaning that it lacks such niceties as the rear-seat button that slides the front passenger-side seat forward, it was certainly comfortable enough for the ~40 minute trudge to Kennedy. I could see that a firm competent in the ways of getting people between points A and B – an Addison Lee, like – could build an appealing service on this platform.

Unfortunately, OZOCar is not that firm. For one thing, while they present themselves to the customer as indie and startup-like, on calling to make a reservation you’re confronted for the first time with the fact that they’re merely a unit of something called the Executive Transportation Group, whereupon you’re invited to “…dial 4 for OZOCar.” At this point, a trouble indicator began gonging softly but insistently, somewhere in the back of my head, but I pressed ahead regardless. (Prii!)

The next flag went up when, a full ten minutes after my scheduled pickup time, I got a dispatcher on the line who told me that the driver “couldn’t find my building.” This despite the fact that our building is both physically prominent and so familiar among NYC drivers, car service and taxi both, that they very often know exactly where I’m headed the moment I mention the intersection at which it lies. Then I actually see a silvery Prius circling the block, with its driver looking panicky, and since I’m already on the phone with his dispatcher I’m able to vector him in. More or less, anyway; he still comes down the driveway the wrong way.

Once on the road it’s no better. (We’re already twenty minutes late by this point, by the way.) The driver doesn’t seem to have heard of any in-car wireless network, but by now I’m so irritated that it doesn’t even signify. He makes a couple of…curious choices in routing us to JFK, choices I probably wouldn’t have made behind the wheel, but frankly it’s nothing I haven’t experienced before in the wild & woolly framework of NYC driving. We’ll count that as a wash.

The real capper is what happens when we get to the airport: the driver tries to insist that the airline I want is at a different terminal than the one I’ve specified, even though an appropriately-liveried plane is sitting on the tarmac outside, clearly visible from the roadway. (Yeah: now he knows where he’s going.) I watch helplessly as he swings past the Terminal 1 offramp and heads straight for Terminal 4. Where of course we’re told, after cruising the length of the curb asking all and sundry where the airline is, that it’s back at Terminal 1. We get back on the airport ring road, and what with jockeying and stoplights it’s another six or seven minutes until I’m finally where I need to be. I pay the guy, silently, and hustle to the check-in counter.

Did I miss my flight? No. Did I get to the airport with enough time to do what I needed to do, unrushed? Also no. Was the entire experience among the more stressful I’ve ever had in a car in NYC? You bet – and that’s saying quite a lot.

I returned to my standby car service, Dial 7, for my subsequent trip and those since. They’re unexciting, their Lincolns embarrass me, and there’s no zing to the experience whatsoever. Nevertheless, in four years of using them they’ve never once dropkicked a pickup, failed to find me or to get me where I was going, and that generally in less time than I had allotted. And they charge an average five bucks per ride less than OZO. I can’t tell you what to do with your time or your money, but if either of them particularly matter to you, I’d sure steer well clear of OZOCar, I’ll tell you that much.

What I’d really like is if I didn’t have to take a car service at all. Give me a Limousine Bus, give me an Airport Express, even give me an A train that actually connects directly to the airport (and does so after a single stop each in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens). Any of those options would be perfectly fine with me. I guess this is how we roll in the Greatest City on Earth.

8 responses to “OZOCar FAIL heads up”

  1. Kazys Varnelis says :

    So although yes, you have to get to Penn Station, just take LIRR to the Jamaica Station. It’s a lot faster than taking the A train, you don’t seem like a lunatic for using your laptop, and there’s plenty of room for your luggage.

  2. Abe Burmeister says :

    I’ll second that, plus you can buy and drink a beer on the LIRR, instantly making the whole JFK experience calmer…

    The only reason the Airtrain does not connect directly to the subway is that the federal funding it got was earmarked for *new* projects only, not for extending old ones… The tracks are apparently fully compatible so it’s mainly a matter of time plus sloppy bureaucracy before they connect…

  3. James McNeal says :

    Sir,

    As a driver for Ozocar, I am disappointed to hear about any negative experience with the company. Your experience is no exception, and I apologize that it went so poorly.

    As any company that is rapidly expanding to try to meet the needs of its customers, there are occasionally lapses in hiring and training of drivers. Unfortunately, mistakes in this business can be brutal, and can often result in the loss of a customer, an account, and even a vent in a blog. We drivers (and there are more than 80 of us) can only offer an apology—something you certainly should have been offered—and a business card with the office number so that you can speak with the client services manager about your bad experience.

    Ozocar does have pretty severe penalties for drivers who make mistakes such as this, but they can only be implemented if a complaint is registered with the company. Violations with financial penalties include:
    being late for a pickup
    getting lost
    not following a customer’s instructions
    lack of working internet or satellite radio.

    From my perspective, I want every bad experience reported to the company, because if it is something other than an honest mistake, I want that guy off the road Any loss in customers or clients costs me work. I believe our managers want the same things, and I also believe the fellow drivers that I have met share similar goals towards customer service. Any good service company wants to provide a great customer experience, and hopefully find a way to bring you back to try our service again, or at least make up for such a poor experience the last time.

    Jeannette Navarro is the manager of Client Services.
    jeannette@ozocar.com
    718.361.8670 is the office number.
    I have forwarded her links to this website.

    Please drop her a line.

    Once again, I am sorry it didn’t go well. We are trying. The hybrid cars, in-car internet, Sirius, new Nokia internet devices, only go so far if we screw up the ride itself.

    Sincerely,

    James McNeal
    Car #1626

    PS: In the time it took me to write this response, one of our founders has already asked Jeannette to research the driver.

  4. AG says :

    Thanks for responding at such length, James. I guess it speaks highly of OZOCar that people who work there are motivated to go to such lengths in the attempt to redress experiences like mine.

    I’ll do as you suggest and get in touch with Jeannette. But I have to tell you that I don’t think there’s anything that OZOCar can do to win me back at this point: getting to the airport as swiftly and smoothly as possible is super-mission-critical for me, and like I say, Dial 7 has at least never let me down in that respect.

    OZOCar had a chance to impress upon me the added value of their service. I’m hard-pressed to imagine giving them another, unless it would be on a non-time-critical trip. And the trouble with that is that the time-critical trips are the only ones for which I really have reason to book a car service.

    At any rate, I do want to thank you again and sincerely for having take the time and trouble to explain things here. I hope at least that you and the folks you work with have gotten some useful feedback out of the exchange.

  5. CM Harrington says :

    It seems to me, the idea of trying to get in the back of a Prius for a ride to the airport would *suck*. No, I don’t need über stretch limos, but as someone who is 6’4″, I’m not going to be a happy camper, cramped in the back of the econobox.

    London taxis for the win. Lots of space, easy ingress/egress, fuel efficient, and drivers who have to pass a very extensive test to be allowed on the road. Perhaps a company should consider importing them and converting them to left-hand-drive.

  6. AG says :

    Yeah, but as we know, it’s not the object London taxi, it’s the situated idea of London taxi – complete with Knowledgeable driver, and so on.

  7. ian bui says :

    The person who calls the Prius an econobox obviously knows nothing about the car.

    Still, it would be really cool if OZOcar removed the front passenger seat in their Prii. That would make the car feel more like a limo on the inside.

  8. AG says :

    The person who calls the Prius an econobox is something like six-foot-five, and built. Everything’s a matter of perspective.

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