Snap Travel ‘not coming back’ as founder joins TfL

Snap Travel Technology – the innovative on-demand coach service – is not re-starting following the pandemic, says its founder and CEO Thomas Ableman, who is joining Transport for London (TfL) as Innovation Director from 20 September, reporting to Surface Transport MD Gareth Powell.

Its decision is due to low demand following the pandemic ‘travel ban’ compounded by the entry of low-cost coach operator Flixbus into the UK.

Snap, which partnered with independent cpoach operators and provided an innovative feedback score and took customer servie to a new level, has been ‘on pause’ since the start of the pandemic.

Founded in 2016, it ran its final trips in March 2020, when public transport use was restricted by the government to ‘key workers’ only in an attempt to reduce the spread of Covid.

Snap used technology, and the power of the community, to aggregate travel demand and match it with spare capacity from the highest-quality independent coach operators.

Snap didn’t succeed. But one of the reasons we achieved the levels of satisfaction that we did is that we stayed close to our customers.

Thomas Ableman, Snap Founder and CEO

Says Mr Ableman: “We have bee out of the market for 18 months and demand remains suppressed. It is time to reach a decision about our future and, in the context of Flixbus’ move into the UK, we do not feel confident we can return to a position in which trips can generate profits for Snap and its network of operators.

“Having spent 18 months waiting for an opportunity to relaunch Snap, the founding team have decided it’s time to move on

“I’m inordinately proud of everything we achieved at Snap.

“Snap didn’t succeed. But one of the reasons we achieved the levels of satisfaction that we did is that we stayed close to our customers.”

“We created a transport platform that provided quality work for small, independent coach operators and the lowest-cost intercity travel service for customers.

“We delivered world-beating levels of customer satisfaction and – in the months before March 2020 – sustainable trip economics.”

Snap Founder and CEO Thomas Ableman: ‘Flixbus is expanding rapidly through the UK. Indeed, they’re one of the main reasons why we aren’t carrying on: they have just raised $650 million and we haven’t’

Talking about his move to TfL he added: “As a passionate Londoner who loves transport innovation, I can’t wait to do my bit in maintaining London’s position as the greatest city in the world.

“There are so many opportunities as we emerge from the pandemic and I’m lucky enough to be joining a superb team of motivated people.”

Going into more detail about the decision not to reopen Snap, writing on his Freewheeling blog, Mr Ableman says: “Flixbus is expanding rapidly through the UK. Indeed, they’re one of the main reasons why we aren’t carrying on: they have just raised $650 million and we haven’t.

“But they’re missing key elements of the model that made Snap a success. By branding coaches, they’re locking in certain operators, which eliminates the possibility of using star ratings to drive results.

“And they’re picking up and setting down in Victoria Coach Station, as opposed to utilising Uber-style tracking and picking up on the high streets where people actually live.

“And they’re offering a fixed timetable, which means they lose the potential to scale up and scale down in response to demand. 

“I suspect that, once they’ve scaled, they will flex to look more like Snap as the world of transport needs the marketplace that Snap was created to become.

He adds: “February 2020 [the last month of operations before the pandemic] saw us make money for our operators and achieve 14% gross margins for Snap. In a marketplace model like Snap, the magic moment where customers get great value while you and the suppliers make money is the point at which it is just a question of scale. We’d got there.

“We’re stopping because we got to the position where we had no money, no team and a catch-22. We needed cash to rehire but we couldn’t get cash without results and we couldn’t get results without a team.”

Read the full blog post here

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