Despite a West Point education and cavalry career – he met his wife, another West Point grad, in Bosnia – Aaron Dirks is a self-professed geek.
“I was building computers in my room at 13,” says Dirks, who grew up in Baton Rouge. “And I inherited my entrepreneurial genes from my father. There was always a new business – a fried chicken shack or a fireworks stand.”
These days, Dirks is not building computers, but software for them. And, like his dad, he’s building new businesses alongside them. As co-owner of Limousine Livery, he has a couple of new applications tailored to the transportation and tour industry. Livery Car offers on-demand ride services through a mobile app, while Joieful is an electronic tour-booking kiosk.
Dirks’ first foray into program development began four or five years ago, not long after his wife, Christy, bought the New Orleans limousine company. Myairporttrip.com was a digital approach to airport transit: Sign on and you can arrange a shuttle, taxi or limo to or from multiple airports, using companies Dirks had created relationships with.
“I knew it had the potential to become mobile-driven,” Dirks says, “but I was building it from a regulatory direction. For me, transportation is a regulated business.”
That is, public transport provided by permitted vehicles. Then along came Uber, Lyft, Ridejoy and other ride-share apps, which coupled everyday drivers with would-be customers.
The technical side “seemed right to me,” says Dirks, who downloaded the Uber app during a trip to Los Angeles in 2012. “We need to take the GPS in our pockets and connect it to cars in the vicinity. I was already working on a version of that.”
But there were several things about the grassroots apps he didn’t like – fare changes, non-professional drivers and surge pricing high on the list.
Livery Car, launched last month, is the result. The mobile app uses GPS-driven technology to pair riders and professional drivers, using vehicles belonging to Livery Limousine. In high-traffic periods, rides can also be outsourced to vehicles belonging to other local companies.
As with grassroots ride services, Livery Car shows users what cars and drivers are in the area, how long it will take for a pick-up, and what the price will be for a ride.
But Livery Car also has a dispatcher service, so that customers can call to book or ask questions. And rides also can be reserved up to eight days in advance. For Dirks, it’s all about providing, for the short-ride customer, the same kind of service he offers limousine passengers.
“People want to know what they will pay,” he says. “They want a good driver, who will be safe. They want an office to call if there are problems, and they want to book in advance.”
So far, Livery Car has given thousands of rides, based mostly on word-of-mouth promotion. “All we’re doing is calling our friends and letting them know this is available.”
The ability to offer rides came with recent City Council deregulation of the limousine industry. Time and hourly minimums were dropped, and the minimum fare requirement lowered from $105 to $15. Livery Limousine operates some 70 vehicles in the region, including limousines, sedans, SUVs and buses. Drivers already are on-call for hotel or last-minute airport needs; now the same on-call drivers are available via Livery Car. For high-demand times, Dirks has another 50 vehicles lined up with other companies that he can outsource rides to.
While the service uses the company’s sedans and SUVs, “there’s always a chance a limo might show up,” Dirks says.
Joieful is still in its testing phase, but it, too, uses technology to reshape customer offerings in the ride and tour industry. Two Joieful kiosks – at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and at 444 Canal Street – are using touch screens to sell local tours and transportation.
Want to go, say, on a swamp tour? Scroll at a touch through the local offerings, select the one you want, swipe your credit card through the machine and your ticket is printed on the spot.
A Joieful mobile app is under construction, says Dirks. “It will knock your socks off.”