After more than a year of work and planning, a new ridesharing service is expected to begin service in Sault Ste. Marie on July 1, said co-founder Chris Morris.
Morris and business partner Daniela Parrotti both worked as contract drivers for a competing rideshare service when they decided to work together on a completely new business they built from the ground up named EZ RIDE.
“I loved it," said Morris of the business he was formerly contracted to. "I thought it was a great service and you could see it getting bigger and bigger and the customers loved that it existed."
Although his experience was mostly positive, Morris said it became frustrating that the chain was not open to some suggestions by drivers.
“We noticed so many things could be better," he said.
In February of 2021 Morris and Parrotti began looking into the new business and in March of that year they began the work of applying to the city to be allowed to eventually get a licence to operate in Sault Ste. Marie.
After it was approved by the Police Services Board, the pair began putting the other pieces in place.
"We started calling around to insurance companies and that is where we ran into the biggest wall, was finding a broker or any kind of underwriter and after months of doing research we found one insurance company in North America that would talk to us,” said Morris.
From there, the business needed to find an app developer for one of the most important parts of the venture, as all scheduling and dispatching will be done directly in that app.
“We wanted everything to be local because we really wanted this to be a Sault Ste. Marie thing," said Morris. "There are a lot of app developers in the States, but we said there has to be something here and we found an app developer here in Sault Ste. Marie called Digital Grounds."
The app has been built by Digital Grounds over the course of months, with final testing underway before the expected July 1 launch.
'Keeping it local' has also applied to EZ RIDE's graphic design and website needs, as well as in its choice to retain a local lawyer.
Sault Ste. Marie-based N1 Solutions helped to develop the security protocols for the business.
“We have worked very closely with N1 Solutions for months on building our security up because it’s massive when it comes to anything tech-related," said Morris. “With COVID and everything, it’s nice to be able to put as much back into the community as possible."
When EZ RIDE launches next month, it will have a total of five contracted drivers, including Morris and Parrotti. Morris said the plan is for him to eventually step away from driving as the business expands.
“Our plan is to expand the number of drivers we have as our customer base grows at the same pace,” he said.
The number one attribute the company is looking for in a contracted driver is good customer service, said Morris.
"If someone came in with customer service experience and experience with ridesharing or in cabs, that would be the ideal candidate,” he said.
The drivers must also use their own vehicle, which cannot be more than five years old and must pass a safety inspection each year.
A big change since plans for the business began is the price of gas.
“To see it a dollar a litre more, that is definitely going to be a challenge to encourage drivers," said Morris.
The company plans on offering bonuses to drivers once they hit a certain number of trips.
“We want to keep them on board. It’s a difficult thing to want to put your car through the ringer with all of the extra kilometres and gas prices, so we are trying to compensate for that," said Morris.
One thing Morris learned while working as a part time rideshare driver is the needs of passengers flying into the Sault Ste. Marie Airport.
“I left aviation to start this up, but I know the struggles of being a passenger coming into the Sault, and the struggle is if you’re not from the Sault, you are expecting to walk off the airplane to find a lineup of cabs. Even today, people think that when they fly here for the first time," he said.
“The goal is to become more of a presence there, so when passengers get off they are not dumbfounded and wondering what they are going to do because that service isn’t there."
Morris said plans to expand outside of the Sault are still a ways off.
“We want to perfect the operation in the Sault before we think about doing anything outside of it. It would be nice to pop into some other small towns like Wawa and Sudbury and any other place like that," he said.