For too long many islanders have been held hostage by the local taxi industry with complaints ranging from cost, modernisation and availability. It’s proven a hard problem to solve and something the local government has recently tried to reform but without much success due to the stubbornness of long time members of the JTDA.
I must confess until a few years ago I never used local taxis, mainly due to the fact I lived so close to central St Helier and had no need, I couldn’t understand what the problem was. However, due to relocation and despite my best to refuse using taxis, I opted for walking or cycling instead, there were times when a taxi was definitely necessary. Either because of weather or general alcohol intoxication, I soon realised on a Friday/Saturday night trying to get a taxi from the public rank is not as easy as one might assume. First of all, availability is poor; this leads to big queues of lots of grumbling drunken people who really just want to get home in the safest and quickest way possible. Then when one does arrive the drivers are usually not the friendliest and tend to drive over the speed limit so they can rush back to the rank. And to top it all off you then have to pay an extortionate amount of money for a 10-minute journey. Not a pleasant experience.
There must be a better solution right? Well yes and no, for some time now a controversial yet popular Facebook group, Jersey Lifts, has existed. For several years it has provided a community-based ridesharing service which, has proven to divide opinion when it comes to safety and moral obligation. The main concerns behind using the page as a means to get around are that essentially you’re getting lifts from strangers with no real information about who the person behind the wheel is. Then there’s the fact it’s taking away income from taxi drivers as it turns any would be individual into a self-serving taxi driver without the correct documentation, licenses or insurance. Organising a lift as a user rather than a driver also turns into a bit of a nightmare and free for all as you have to post a request for a lift and then hope someone replies back with a number for you to then discuss offline. Not exactly convenient or reliable especially when it comes to giving directions.
This is where the team from Itineris have stepped in to solve a lot of the issues above by creating a mobile based ride sharing app, Jersey Lifts. At first glance, the app is not too dissimilar to other popular taxi/ride-sharing apps you can already use elsewhere in major cities such as London and New York. What sets Jersey Lifts a part is the unique branding, functionality and usability. One of the team’s main goals was to enable most users to use this in any situation, drunk or not and get a lift with only a few taps and in a matter of seconds. They’ve certainly achieved this. The app loads you on to the ‘Find Lift’ tab, which displays a map with your current location and a search bar at the top allows you to enter the destination, for example, St Helier. There are even starred locations to popular destinations to reduce searching.
Once you have entered your destination you will be presented with a distance range, an option to adjust the number of passengers and the payment format. Currently users handle any payment or contribution in person with cash but, hopefully, card payments are added as this is something I would love to see making the experience even more seamless. You can cancel your lift request at any time and the requests appear for one hour for drivers to accept. Currently, there is no way to see how far away your driver is once they have accepted the request but I’m told this is in the works and coming very soon. This will solve the problem of wondering how long you need to wait for a lift.
As someone offering a lift, the ‘Lift Requests’ tab is where you will probably spend most of your time and from here you can see all the available lifts needed by other users. By default, you will only be notified of lifts within a 1.5km range on your mobile device or you can change it to show you all requests. The request gives you basic information like distance, start/end destination and the user’s name and rating. The requests are also visible to all users of the Jersey Lift app which isn’t ideal privacy wise but would likely be something that changes in the future to split passengers and drivers.
For all users, everyone has a ‘Profile tab which allows you to check on your overall rating as a driver or ride sharer, previous ride/lifts history and you can update personal information and notification settings too. You can even add in a ‘Trip Alerts’ number to a friend/relative or loved one that notifies them via SMS of all your activity as a ride user for peace of mind. All in all, an easy and simple app to use with simple yet powerful functions for the local ride user making the whole experience quicker and safer. A welcome change to the cumbersome set up of requesting lifts through the current Facebook page.
As an early beta tester and driver since its launch last Thursday I’ve been a big advocate of the app which has been built as a, not for profit endeavour and much credit is deserved to the team behind Itineris. There is still plenty more to come from the team and the app isn’t perfect, but they are open to all user feedback and suggestions and this can only be a good thing for improving things going forward. The Jersey Lifts app is a step in the right direction for Jersey, not only pushing the technical boundaries but political ones and proving that this can be done. There will be doubters and critics but for every one of them, there will be an end user getting a modern and seamless experience when it comes to ridesharing. There has been much talk about the legality of the app and the consequences of all users of the service and I won’t bore you all with this information but the service does have ‘Legal Advisory‘ for those who wish to read it.