Transport app Flex nears pilot launch

Cayman Compass is the Cayman Islands' most trusted news website. We provide you with the latest breaking news from the Cayman Islands, as well as other parts of the Caribbean.
Cayman Compass is the Cayman Islands' most trusted news website. We provide you with the latest breaking news from the Cayman Islands, as well as other parts of the Caribbean.

Flex, Cayman’s fledgling version of transport app Uber, is hoping to launch by the end of this month, initially on a limited basis in the George Town and Seven Mile Beach area with approximately 30 drivers.

Ultimately, the makers of Flex say they would like to sign up 150 drivers and provide a level of service comparable with popular U.S. app-based dispatch services like Lyft and Uber.

Entrepreneurs Alex Cowan and Rachel Smyth created Flex to allow residents and tourists to hail a taxi, track its arrival and pay the fare using their smartphones.

The business first launched and began recruiting drivers two years ago. But the plan stalled amid a requirement that all its drivers be licensed by the Public Transport Board.

The Ministry of Tourism and Transport places a limit on the number of drivers that can be licensed in any given year. Flex has multiple affiliated drivers on the waiting list and is hopeful that amid consistent increases in tourism arrivals, new licenses will be opened up shortly.

Ms. Smyth said the business had also signed up some existing drivers to use the app. She said a number of drivers were now going through the application process and the launch plans are dependent on their licenses being granted.

“We can’t launch without the right number of drivers,” she said.

No one from the Public Transport Board or Ministry of Tourism was available to confirm if new taxi licenses would be opened up.

Government’s consultants Deloitte have recommended that an “electronic fare calculator” – a basic offline app that allows customers to check the fare for a journey – be provided by the Public Transport Board in an effort to stem complaints over inconsistent prices.

The consultants said this would not prevent a private sector operator from setting up a more sophisticated app.

Mr. Cowan said the Flex app offered more than a simple rate calculator. He said it was a dispatch and payment service with GPS capability to track drivers and an option to rate drivers, among other features.

“The offline app [proposed by government] will calculate fares but it doesn’t allow you to track the journey, it doesn’t allow you to hail a ride or to pay, it is just an electronic version of the rate book that allows you to check the price from point A to point B,” Mr. Cowan said.

“Although this is something that will indeed assist and alleviate the issue of inconsistent fares, it’s not sufficient during this day and age. Flex addresses and provides a structured solution for many of the issues facing the transport industry.”

The initial Flex launch will be evenings only, between 4 p.m. and 6 a.m. – aiming to fill a niche in the market, with taxis difficult to find in the evening and early hours of the morning.

Ms. Smyth said many of the affiliated drivers were younger Caymanians looking for a second income stream. The app is also open to existing drivers to use alongside more traditional dispatch services.

She said it would open up a new demographic for them.

“A lot of younger people don’t use cash any more. They don’t talk on the phone, they are used to doing everything with their smartphone, ordering food, hailing a cab, they expect it and find it easier to communicate through technology. That’s where Flex comes in,” Ms. Smyth said.

“We are not reinventing the wheel, this is something that is working all over the world.”

In the longer term, she hopes there will be a generational shift toward embracing new technology in the transport sector.

During its initial launch phase, Flex signed up more than 100 interested drivers. Many of those are now on the waiting list for licenses through the Public Transport Board.

As more drivers are licensed, Ms. Smyth expects the business to eventually become more viable.

“We do need that critical mass of drivers to make it work,” she acknowledged.

But she believes the limit placed on licenses is currently restricting the quality of service in Cayman and is hopeful the Public Transport Board will significantly expand the number of licenses.

“The island is packed right now and there are not enough taxis on the road. You could easily put another 150 drivers out there,” she said.

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