Jackie Traverse decided she had to do something after hearing story after story about aboriginal women dealing with racism or rude behaviour in Winnipeg taxis.
Traverse, an artist, turned to social media, creating "Boycott all Winnipeg Taxi Companies" and "Ikwe (Women helping women safe ride)" pages on Facebook on the weekend.
Ikwe is a ride-sharing group that so far has close to a dozen women signed up to give rides.
Traverse said she's had her own issues with cab drivers, and she's heard more and more stories from other aboriginal women.
"They're rude to us, they demand payment as soon as we sit in or they yell at us, they think we don't have money. They feel we're all trying to rob them or ditch out on the cabs," said Traverse, 46.
Crystal Anderson said she, too, has had similarly racially-charged experiences taking cabs in Winnipeg. Anderson signed up to be a volunteer driver with the group because she wants to provide indigenous women with an added sense of safety.
"Some of these women don't have help, so I want to just pass it on, pay it forward and let them know that there is people out there [who] care," she said.
Trouble getting a cab
Beyond the issues indigenous women face once they arrive in some cabs in the city, Traverse said sometimes it's challenging to even get a cab in the first place.
"No cab would take me. I was walking down the street with my money out in my hand trying to find a cab, to show them that I had money. Sometimes that's the only way a cab will stop is if you hold your money with both hands in front of you. So I ended up walking home, which took me an hour, and it was really bitterly cold that night. Twenty cabs must have driven by me that night, and I couldn't get a cab," Traverse said.
'We want indigenous women to feel safe whenever they take a cab' - Luc Lewandosk
There was some talk of creating a taxi service for aboriginal women only, or an Uber-type service, but it was too expensive, Traverse said.
"We don't have money to do things. What about Safe Ride? Ride Share? That's not illegal. People carpool every day," Traverse said.
She has not contacted the Taxicab Board or other regulatory bodies about what such a ride service would require.
"I'm done with asking for permission to look after our women. We shouldn't have to ask for permission to look after our own. I don't think there's a legal thing with offering a ride. How could that be illegal?" Traverse said.
Payment would be worked out between the driver and the passenger. Traverse said it could range from money for gas to a coffee to $5 to $10 per ride.
The movement comes shortly after Pernell Flett started a safe ride service for indigenous people.
Traverse said she appreciates what he is doing, but one person isn't enough, and some women might not want to take a ride with a stranger.
"It's mainly women because I wanted it to be a woman's page, because we want to keep our girls safe. We know the percentage of women who are going missing, women and girls that are going missing on the streets. We want to try and keep our women safe."
David Sanders, chair of the Manitoba Taxicab Board, said last week that he has heard a number of sexual harassment complaints and drivers' licences have been suspended. It's an issue the board takes seriously, he said, adding he encourages riders to lodge formal complaints.
'We want indigenous women to feel safe'
Luc Lewandoski with the Winnipeg Taxi Alliance agrees, adding he takes concerns raised by Traverse and others seriously.
"We want indigenous women to feel safe whenever they take a cab," he said.
"We know when it comes to the indigenous populations, there's been members of the community that have met with the Manitoba Taxi Cab Board. The Winnipeg Taxi Alliance certainly would be open to meeting as well, and it's something I think that we're going to pursue over the next couple of weeks, partially stemming from the recent activity and the recent stories."
Drivers are updating training on handling accessibility issues in the next year, and that's an opportunity for the Taxicab Board to sensitize drivers to the issues specifically faced by indigenous riders, Sanders added.
A meeting is being held at the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre at 445 King St. to discuss the issue of taxis at 7 p.m. Monday.