2018-08-15

Go Rural steering toward new digital transportation platform

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Darren Nauss, a founder of Go Rural Transportation Network, which aims to use applied technology to help solve rural transportation problems.</p>

If all goes according to plan, rural Lunenburg County will soon have its own Uber-style transportation network.

However, Darren Nauss, one of the developers of the Go Rural Transportation Network, prefers to steer clear of an Uber association.

"The idea is to create that single point of access platform for Lunenburg County," explained Nauss, who lives in the town of Lunenburg, in an interview with LighthouseNOW.

But he insists Uber's business model, which has been developed for urban areas, doesn't work in rural Nova Scotia.

Nor is the world-wide ride-share service community oriented.

"I'm trying to create a community transportation network using similar technology modified for our environment," he says.

Nauss, who himself works in the transportation industry, sees a need for the digital platform he's proposing.

He says there are ongoing complaints about the lack of taxi service in rural areas, while at the same time he's aware of the push to have seniors stay in their homes longer. And some residents have reported exorbitant fares charged by some town taxis to serve their rural customers.

But the Go Rural Transportation Network he's developing with a silent business partner is not just about serving people who need rides, but those offering them as well.

The network will create business opportunities for drivers in the rural area. And rather than compete with existing taxi services, Nauss suggests Go Rural can assist them.

Nauss notes that many of the taxi operations that exist are small, owner-operated or, "one-two-man bands.

"And they all run their own administration and dispatch."

Nauss wants to create a digital platform that can act as a management tool for them.

As well, he says many of the community-based transportation services, or what he calls "community assets," have large administration costs which he says detract from funds actually going into transportation.

"The grand scale picture is to bring those assets onto this digital platform and take that administration burden, so that they can then deliver more rides with the funds raised."

According to Nauss the platform also should help shorten the lead time for booking services through the community groups by eliminating some of the administration issues they have.

But before that can happen, "you've got to get the ball rolling ... You've got to prove that it works," he says.

As a first step, Nauss spoke to a number of technology providers and invested in the digital platform.

"We're able to label and brand existing applications that are out there today. It's called white labelling in the industry," he explains.

Next was to launch a campaign on Facebook to sign on a pool of rural-based drivers, which he recently did, resulting in a number of inquiries.

"And I can say we have several committed individuals from those inquiries."

The plan is to have about 15 or 20 drivers based strategically across Lunenburg County. If they don't materialize organically, he intends to hold public information sessions to encourage drivers to sign on in areas where there are gaps.

He maintains existing taxi companies will see an advantage to signing onto the single digital platform, as will the community transportation services, and that all transportation modes will feed into each other to create a rural network.

He also sees Go Rural as feeding into the Bridgewater Transit service. "And some service gaps that they have in town."

Nauss noted that some municipal councils in the county have indicated support for the Maritime Bus initiative linking the towns to Halifax, and Go Rural could feed into that service as well.

As for the customers, he suggests they will be "all age groups, anyone going to work, going to a doctor's appointment, shopping, general use of a taxi. All of the above."

But they won't be getting Uber-style discounted fares, according to Nauss, who says those sort of rates only work in concentrated urban areas.

However, nor will Go Rural charge some of the higher fares he says he's been told some town taxi drivers employ to get clients in outlying areas.

Nauss says he's heard comments such as, "'The guy was going to charge me $40 just to come and get me. Let alone what the cost of the ride would be.'"

If true, he says, "I think that's absurd. I believe in a small door fee, but charging a full fare to get to a client is not a way to grow a business."

Go Rural is proposing a rate structure based on the occupant count and distance travelled.

And with drivers strategically positioned around the rural areas, the service "wouldn't be charging the get-to-you price for starters. And we would be on par with the regular fares," says Nauss.

As for the drivers, he maintains Go Rural's approach to them would be a "fair business model."

Choosing his words carefully, he adds there would be a "generous fare split with the driver."

Go Rural plans to apply the same payment principals as Uber, however, customers would sign onto accounts and prepay for their rides or register their credit cards.

But while the company will be less keen to accept cash, Nauss concedes there will be times when it may be necessary.

"We understand where we are," he says simply.

As well, the service will not only be accessible by an app downloaded onto the traveller's smart phone. There will also be a telephone dispatch service for those who prefer to or must call in.

For Nauss, the main thing is it's one point of contact.

"And it makes for a stronger transportation network on the South Shore," he says.

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