The drive to be green

Founded in 2006 on the belief that passenger car services should combine high standards and an environmentally-focused approach, Green Tomato Cars (GTC) can be used as the perfect example of how an ethical and sustainable business can also be a commercial success. “We wanted to show that people could do their bit for the planet without having to compromise on quality or price, with a brand and service that was – and still is – accessible to the mainstream,” explained one of the company’s creators, and current Managing Director, Jonny Goldstone. “At that time, putting a ‘green’ label on products and services tended to conjure up notions of low quality and/or high price – not to mention, ‘do-gooder’ tree-huggers!”

Determined to change the perceptions of what it means to be ‘environmentally-friendly’, GTC began with a fledgling original fleet of five Toyota Prius – it was the first private hire or taxi company to use that vehicle. “Back then, most people had never heard of a hybrid car, and many had serious reservations about whether they were suitable for the industry. Today, more than half of all licensed private hire vehicles in London and many other regions are Prius, and the car has become synonymous with passenger transport.”

As is a familiar story with a successful business, GTC caught the attention of a bigger company, and keen to benefit from its growing reputation for innovation as well as quality, multi-national transport operator Transdev acquired GTC in 2010. However, “initially rapid growth was halted by the arrival of Uber, which had a major impact on the retail side of our business – and many others – from 2013. Over the following years, Transdev decided to move away from this sector in most of its operating countries, and at the end of 2018 I found myself with the chance to bring GTC back into private ownership, alongside London-based executive service, Travelhire,” added Jonny.

The time for change was ripe, with 2019 seeing the business successfully consolidate its service offering and fulfilment with Travelhire’s staff, drivers and clients, and benefit from a much more streamlined operational approach and a more entrepreneurial, less corporate culture.

Today GTC offers standard and executive car services, standard and executive people carrier (MPV) services, as well as wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs), coaches and couriers. “We operate the car services ourselves in and around greater London, and work with partner operators to service bookings in the rest of the UK and overseas too. The great thing for our customers is that they can access all these services directly through us – they can book online, using our app or by phone or email, and we take care of the rest.”

Customers enjoy hands-on account management, consolidated invoicing and management information (MI), along with regular service innovations and proactive communications.

“And with our fleet of zero emission cars, we also offer the UK’s only dedicated zero emission executive service. That’s been a major success over the last 12 months, with a rapidly growing number of corporate clients mandating their staff use this service where possible,” Jonny added.

When looking at what GTC has accomplished since the business returned to private hands, Jonny brought the focus of our conversation to staff, a topic very close to his heart. “The speed and depth of our achievements shows that we have the right people across the business, which is the most important factor when planning ahead,” he said.

“We recognise that our drivers are the true face of our business. We’ve always worked hard to ensure drivers are not just well paid for the work they do, but that we look after them as well as we can across the board. This means having an open-door policy for drivers to discuss issues or ideas with senior management, and a commitment to respecting their desire for autonomy and flexibility on the one hand, but also the rights they are entitled to in this ever-changing economy.

“There are lots of excellent drivers within the industry, but we spend a lot of time looking outside too. We work with ex-forces recruiters, who help us find drivers with excellent levels of professionalism and attention to detail, and we often recruit drivers whose previous experience was in customer services – such as restaurant managers, or hotel staff. These candidates will sometimes need a bit more time to gain the local route knowledge expected of a top driver, but with a natural passion for customer service, learning the ropes of life as a professional driver tends to come quickly.

“Our recruitment process includes an interview stage, a written test regarding customer service and route knowledge, and an induction process where we get into more detail about our systems and processes, as well as assessing each new starter’s actual driving style.

“All of these stages are part of a clear aim – to determine the suitability of the driver to the needs of GTC, and vice versa. We need a clear ‘yes’ in both directions before a new driver joins our fleet.”

Looking more closely at the fleet itself, GTC’s London-based network now numbers around 600 vehicles. This includes company-owned vehicles (which it provides to its self-employed and employee drivers) and driver-owned vehicles, which enable part-time drivers to work with GTC on an ad hoc basis when demand picks up. “This dual model allows us to flex supply to meet demand, increase operational efficiency and minimise the environmental impact of having excess vehicles on the road at any time,” explained Jonny, long recognised as one of London’s leading influencers in the environmental and transport sectors. Keen to ensure that its business model reflects the changing nature of the economic environment for self-employed drivers, GTC also has plans to launch a new Driver Deal, which will build on the comprehensive benefits that are already in place.

“We are committed to being the number one private hire operator to drive for. This enables us to continue to gain and retain high calibre customers in the front and the back of our cars – and in turn, to demonstrate the commercial sustainability of environmentally responsible business,” Jonny acknowledged.

The network will also be seeing some major technology investments in 2020, with solutions planned to significantly increase the efficiency of the driver network; as well as enhanced car-sharing functionality to enable clients to further reduce their environmental impact – and save some money into the bargain. “We have always embraced – and often conceived and developed – new technology as part of our pioneering culture,” stated Jonny.

“We’ve put significant time and investment into piloting and adopting ever greener technologies. That doesn’t just go for our vehicle policy, including our recent deployment of 50 hydrogen fuel cell EVs – Europe’s largest operating fleet of zero emission vehicles – but also our use of dispatch software and in-car telematics, to maximise efficiency in our logistics, track our unavoidable emissions, and monitor any idling and other driver or vehicle behaviour that present opportunities to reduce our environmental impact.”

Jonny was also keen to emphasise that while these sorts of solutions are important, they can never be a substitute for superlative customer service. “While

it’s critical that businesses like ours lead the way in showing that technology has its place as an enabler, service businesses in particular must be about one thing above all others – how we treat people,” he agreed.

As GTC prepares to enter its 15th year of business, it has ambitious plans for further growth, but will never stray from the concepts upon which it was founded. “The fact that we’ve stayed true to our roots is probably what sets us apart from the majority of our competitors, and in 2020 we will build on those foundations,” Jonny confirmed. “From a standing start in 2019, already five per cent of all our bookings are fulfilled by nationwide and international service partners – as we add partners and cities around the world, we expect that proportion to more than double in 2020.

“While our standard services constitute a strong core, there is growing demand for our other offerings, which we expect to pick up pace as our reputation increases: executive cars and MPVs for roadshows and large events; coaches and couriers for clients in search of a one-stop-shop; as well as these national and international services, which enable a seamless booking and travel experience for our ever-expanding base of corporate clients undertaking multi-modal journeys.”

He concluded: “Climate Change – both on a global level, and ever more so in terms of local air quality – is finally becoming the number one item on the political agenda. Our core founding principle, of demonstrating the commercial viability of an environmentally responsible business, has never been more important. We have consistently stood by our commitment to using the greenest vehicles on the market, and I see plenty of opportunities for business growth, increasing development and opportunity for our people, and ongoing innovation and differentiation across our service offerings in line with our core beliefs and strengths.”

Green Tomato Cars
London’s first hybrid car service, founded in 2006
Now running the largest zero emissions fleet in London
Maintains a real focus on community and customer service