Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Fast Broke

Don't Get Taken Every Time : The Ultimate Guide to Buying or Leasing a Car in the Showroom or on the InternetI just got back from a lovely day trip to scenic Washington in which I traveled through what may be the most hellish airport in the US. This would be none other than Dulles Airport in Virginia, which holds the Guinness Book record for...

Worst inter-terminal transit system: to get from terminal to terminal, we board a pod-like bus, which has been cleverly designed to feed us exhaust fumes from both itself and any nearby jets. Each terminal bus is crammed with characters that might have escaped from a Star Wars Cantina.

We are joined together with persons of every nationality, all of us wondering why we're driving around on an airport tarmac... in a bus that looks like Ozzie & Harriet's vision of the future... but smells like a sulfur factory working double shifts. Once we arrive at the destination terminal, we're disgorged through double doors at the front of the bus, like meat through a grinder. I believe the Nazis had a system similar to this, only more efficient.

We make our way through hill and dale, the innards of Dulles that are under perpetual construction, herded like rats through a maze. Twisty little passages, all alike, looking for the cheese that is truly the daylight at the end of the tunnel. Ahh, ground transportation. And our trusty Budget Rent-a-Car Bus awaits us.

A quick ten-minute jaunt to the lot has us in high spirits. After all, one in our party -- Mark -- is a member of Budget's coveted "Fast Break" club. This means he can simply pick any car off the lot and drive it off. Yes... it's... just... that... simple.

Hold the phone!

There are no cars in the lot, despite our "Fast Break" reservation. We reluctantly enter the Budget office and it, too, is brimming with denizens of every social strata. There is a line of bald-headed biker-types, gang-banger wannabes, and several intense, obviously late business people who look scarier than any of the others. They are all waiting for cars.

Mark side-steps the line and sidles to the side of the counter, which is a body-language statement that says, "Hey! I'm a member of 'Fast Break'!". Sorta like a dog, urinating on the ground to stake his turf.

A member of the crack Budget staff sidles over with all the alacrity of an 80-year-old climbing a steep flight of stairs. "Get in line with the rest," he says. Mark is crestfallen. At least today, a "Fast Break" member has no more privileges than a first-time customer.

Interestingly, the place is teeming with Budget employees, all drinking coffee, walking from one end of the room to the other, talking with each other. But only one or two are behind the desk, servicing customers at any one moment.

In fact, as each customer is processed, the service rep breaks the monotony by wandering into the back office, where -- possibly -- other employees are gathered watching a video feed of irate customers in line. I can imagine them panning and zooming, focusing on one muttering customer after another.

And their work process is fascinating. There is no division of labor. As a service rep handles a customer picking up a car, that same person walks out from behind the desk, finds a car, drives it to the pump, gasses it up, and then takes it to the back to get it washed.

This, despite the fact that there are a large number of the aforementioned employees who are wandering around, drinking coffee, walking in and out of the restroom, talking, and generally doing absolutely nothing visible that would help speed up the process.

Now I'm no Gary Peters, or whoever the dude was that wrote the Business Excellence books, but I'm pretty sure I could design a better process flow than what they're using here. It would involve text pagers, a starter pistol, and the "punishment hole" from the movie Stalag 17.

Within twenty or so minutes, we are outside waiting for our red Mercury Grand Marquis. My closely shaven scalp is getting burned in the pre-noon sun.

A fly sputters in mid-air and then dies, auguring into the ground. It leaves only a black oily spot on the asphalt.

A large piece of tumbleweed rolls by, pausing briefly in front of us, as if to inspect another sorry lot of customers.

After forty-or-so minutes of exceptional "Fast Break" service, our car arrives. It is a sparkling exemplar of American Manufacturing. Plush 8-way leather power seats. Enough room for six. A trunk big enough for Tony Soprano.

And the air conditioning doesn't work.

The cool thing about the "Fast Break" logo is that it has squiggly lines hanging off some of the letters, signifying just how fast it is. It's a cool logo. Trouble is, the rest of the company doesn't seem to be coming close to the logo in terms of quality.

Executive Summary: "Fast Break" is broke. Bad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Budget's FastBreak program is not the problem here. Budget is a fantastic car rental company. The problem lies solely in your selection of D.C. airports. I fly in and out of Baltimore and D.C. about every two weeks, and I've NEVER had a problem with Budget or FastBreak-- but I've also never flow through Dulles. An extra 15 minutes in a cab will get you to R.R. National airport. And surely 15 minutes extra in a cab is worth more than the 45 minutes extra it would take you to even get in/out of Dulles, let alone the car rental problems you mentioned.