P.E.I. ride-booking app gains popularity amid Island’s taxi shortage
While Prince Edward Island faces a shortage of taxis, an app for booking rides on the island is gaining popularity, both with drivers and customers.
“Incredible,” said Len Currie, co-founder of the Kari ride-booking app, of receiving an award for outstanding innovation on Jan. 25 from the Greater Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce.
The app works similar to Uber or Lyft in other places, with users downloading and registering with the app on their phones. There is no shop, no phone number to call.
Currie said when the company first launched during the pandemic, the founders expected to attract about 200 trips a week. The estimated number of Kari rides is now in the range of 1,500 to 1,800 per week.
“I wouldn’t have thought two years ago that we would be anywhere close to where we are now in terms of the number of people using the service, but people are noticing, people are recognizing and using the app” , he said .
Currie also said the company has no problem attracting drivers and is getting many applications.
Lack of taxi drivers
Conversely, City Taxis in Charlottetown has a shortage of drivers. Manager Joe Corrigan said they lost some riders when the pandemic hit and although most of them came back, others didn’t.
He said they currently have about 35 riders but could use another 10-15.
Corrigan said he’s not worried about competition from Kari, especially if it means people aren’t waiting to get where they need to be.
But he’s looking for help from the government to recruit and retain drivers, with assistance with skills training and also insurance, which he says costs up to $5,000 and can put many new drivers off the road enter the industry.
Corrigan said the taxi drivers are self-employed and he hopes support options will be available to them.
“I’m hoping I can get some kind of response from transport or tourism to get help to get them subsidized in some way.”
Impact on island tourism
PEI’s tourism industry association said people need options like Kari to travel in the province, especially after the challenging times of the pandemic.
“COVID has really impacted our taxi service and transportation in general, so having this app and service like Kari has become very, very important for us in Prince Edward Island,” said Corryn Clemence, CEO of TIAPEI.
More than 100 taxis used to stop at Charlottetown Airport to pick up and drop off travelers, but today fewer than half do. There are now signs in the airport to inform passengers about the Kari ride booking app.
“I think it’s necessary because it’s an alternative, I think it’s necessary because it’s an expectation of people when they travel,” said Airport Authority CEO Doug Newson.
Ride booking app Kari is currently active in the Charlottetown, Stratford and Cornwall areas. But Currie said he hopes to expand it to other island communities, as well as New Brunswick, based on service needs.