Ikwe Safe Ride hunting for more drivers to meet new, higher demand: co-director

A director of a Winnipeg safe-ride service says her group is struggling to keep up with rising demand for rides, and she's hoping to find more drivers to help out.

Demand has jumped in last month as other services shut down, co-director says

Ikwe Safe Rides hopes to find 20 new volunteer drivers in the next month. (Matt Meuse/CBC)

A director of a Winnipeg safe-ride service says her group is struggling to keep up with rising demand for rides, which has skyrocketed since the city passed ride-hailing rules, and she's hoping to find more drivers to help out.

"Our demand is far exceeding the ability of our current drivers to meet the need," said Christine Brouzes, a co-director of Ikwe Safe Rides.

"We need more drivers. That is our No. 1 challenge."

Ikwe was founded by Winnipeg artist Jackie Traverse in 2016, after Indigenous women in her community raised concerns about feeling unsafe in taxicabs.

The service has expanded since then and is now a registered non-profit, Brouzes said, serving 17,000 members with 43 drivers. Previously, they've received between 1,500 and 1,800 requests for rides in an average month, she said.

Since the beginning of the month, Brouzes said, their daily requests have shot up, and drivers have had to turn them down more frequently.

"It's been consistent over the last few weeks, rather than occasional," she said. "Every hour we'll have several rides posted, and every hour one or two rides, we're just not able to get to them."

Daily requests to join Ikwe's group on Facebook have more than doubled, she added. New members are required to go through a brief vetting process, she said, and the increase in requests mean there are more than 100 people currently on the group's wait-list.

On one particularly busy afternoon this month they granted only 30 per cent of rides requested, she said.

"In the middle of the night, we're doing really well, we're almost at 100 per cent again. But during the daytime, early evening, we're down to anywhere between 30 to 60 per cent of … the requests covered," she said.

"Prior to March 1, we were often at 90 to 100 per cent of requests met."

Seeking 20 more drivers

Brouzes said she thinks the jump in demand is due to changes to the city's taxi bylaws that came into effect on March 1.

The changes imposed stricter regulations for safe-ride services like Ikwe, including a requirement the service is a registered non-profit and for drivers to provide receipts.

Before the new rules came in, Brouzes said there were about 26 other safe-ride services in Winnipeg, but she thinks many of them have chosen to close up shop because they wouldn't be in compliance.

In January, a spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg told CBC News that Ikwe was the only group that came in for meetings during the development of the bylaws and was in full compliance with the new rules.

"I think the changes are good," Brouzes said. "I think that there's still some bugs and issues to be worked out as far as how policing and implementation will go as far as holding other safe-ride groups responsible to meet the requirements of the new bylaws."

She's hoping to find 20 more drivers by the end of the month, although she knows it won't happen overnight.

Drivers have to identify as women, and must have a full driver's licence and submit a child abuse registry check. They also have to undergo safety training and orientation, she said.

"Volunteer drivers are hard to come by, especially when it's a volunteer driver that we're looking for that meets our standards," she said.

She hopes demand may drop again in the near future as ride-hailing services like TappCar and Cowboy Taxi — allowed in by the changed rules — establish themselves in Winnipeg and some Ikwe riders try out their services.

"We personally don't view other safe-ride groups nor the [ride hailing] providers such as Uber-type companies … as competition for us, because we can't have competition, in a way," she said.

"We wish there were … alternatives so we didn't have to exist."

A city of Winnipeg spokesperson, in an email, said the city has been "working with organizations who run safe-ride services to ensure that they are operating in a way that is compliant with the new regulations."

"We want to ensure that those who are offering this type of service are doing so appropriately."