Originally envisaged as “Uber in Cayman,” a new tech business is preparing for a pilot launch as a potential solution to concerns about taxi rates and reliability on the island.
The Flex app will allow users to summon and pay for a taxi using their smartphone, according to business owners Rachel Smyth and Alex Cowan.
Flex had initially hoped to use private drivers but after discussions with government, they agreed to modify the plan to involve only taxi drivers licensed through the Public Transport Board.
The board limits the number of taxi drivers allowed to operate in Cayman and officials were concerned that an Uber-style platform would threaten the industry.
Flex is currently signing up drivers for a pilot of the new app in the George Town and Seven Mile Beach area. Ms. Smyth said the app would make cashless payment possible for taxis and erase debates about inconsistent pricing, which have dogged the industry.
“We are born and raised Caymanians and we want to see something like this work for the industry,” said Ms. Smyth, also a lawyer who runs ARKA legal services.
“We want the taxi drivers to see the benefits and understand the advantages of having access to a completely different demographic.”
She said the company had signed up several younger drivers to use the app, but was finding it harder to persuade older drivers to try something new. One barrier is that drivers seem to like being paid in cash every time they collect a fare, while the Flex app would mean they were paid by check or direct debit at the end of the week.
Mr. Cowan said Flex needs to recruit at least 20 taxi drivers before they can go live with a pilot launch in a limited area.
“It is going to be another form of dispatch. We are hoping the drivers will learn to embrace it because it is so well known internationally and it is what people expect,” he said.
“I see Cayman as one of the most developed and forward-thinking islands in the region. We need to have something like this and it needs to happen pretty quickly.
“The rest of the world are looking into self-driving cars and we are still using radios and rate sheets. We need to start thinking ahead for the tourism industry. These ride sharing platforms have become worldwide, and tourists are asking why don’t we have it and when it is coming.”
The app works exactly like Uber and any other ride-sharing platform, according to Ms. Smyth.
Passengers use the Flex app to request a ride. When a nearby driver accepts the request, the app indicates an expected arrival time and calculates the fare. Once the ride is complete, it accepts payment from a card attached to the user’s Flex account.
The drivers use a separate Flex partner app, which alerts them whenever a potential customer in the vicinity is requesting a ride. Flex takes the payment and pays the drivers weekly.
Ms. Smyth said the platform had the potential to solve a number of issues that have impacted the taxi industry, not least disputes about fares. The app uses an algorithm derived from the current rate sheet to calculate fares automatically.
She said it would also ease concerns about safety of drivers carrying large amounts of cash and make it easier for passengers to use credit cards.
According to Ms. Smyth, there is large public demand for the app, but persuading taxi drivers to try it was the key barrier.
“We are struggling with educating the taxi drivers on how this is going to be good for them and good for Cayman. We have been contacted on many occasions by hotels, restaurants and local business in the Cayman Islands who have customers and clients that request this type of service or ask if it exists in Cayman.”
She said the app would also help put a dent in Cayman’s unenviable drunk driving statistics by making it easier for people in bars to summon a taxi and be assured that they will be able to get a taxi and that the rates will be consistent.
“We are offering a system that makes life easy. That is our driving force. We are not going up against taxi drivers. We are offering them an alternate form of dispatch. This is the future, we have to embrace it – everyone in Cayman and globally has tapped into this type of technology.”
Uber has proved controversial in some countries because of the competition it brings to traditional taxi drivers. But Ms. Smyth said that would not be an issue in Cayman, given Flex’s assurance of working with registered cab drivers only.
Payment processing for the app goes through Bermuda-based First Atlantic Commerce, which provides secure credit card and online payment services for businesses.
For more information, visit www.flex.ky.