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Nicky Marr: I tested a new app helping Inverness women get home safely

By Nicky Marr

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Nicky Marr on Greig Street bridge.
Nicky Marr on Greig Street bridge.

Every woman I know has felt vulnerable while walking home late at night. We hear footsteps behind us and worry that we might be followed, attacked, or robbed.

With the rapist and murderer of Jill Barclay sentenced last week, after an unspeakably depraved attack, next time we walk home, her fate might be added to our list of fears too.

As a student I took part in ‘Take back the Night’ marches and learned to spread out my keys between my fingers to increase the impact of my punch.

I always felt that by walking home alone, sometimes a little worse for wear, it would be partly my own fault if I was attacked.

It wasn’t till my daughters were growing up that I fully understood victim blaming.

Gavin Johnston Inverness Taxis. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Gavin Johnston Inverness Taxis. Picture: Callum Mackay..

So it was life-affirming – and reassuring – to meet with Gavin Johnston, the boss of Inverness Taxis, to hear about their new SafeKab app, which had its soft-launch a few weeks ago. With a couple of thousand downloads already, it’s beginning to gain some traction. Gavin showed me how it works.

Step one is to download the app. You include your details, so it knows who you are, and can upload bank details too, making paying for taxis easy.

Step two comes when you need a taxi; simply tell the app where you want to go. Using your location it alerts all the cabs in the area. Each will see the job, and can bid for it, if they are available.

You’ll then see a photo of each available driver, what car they drive, and how much the fixed fare will be. Crucially, you can also read reviews left by previous passengers.

Step three: Choose your driver and track their arrival. You’ll get a three-digit pin code for identification and can message about exactly where to meet.

Payment comes off your card for the agreed fare, and once the drop-off is complete, you rate each other. Each of you has a panic button too, in the unlikely event of anything going wrong.

So far, it’s quite Uber, but in choosing your driver, you have more control.

But what about those nights when there are no cabs available, or you fancy the walk? This is the clever bit; app users can invoke the free ‘SafeWalk’ feature.

The app knows where you are, and once you tell it where you want to walk to, it suggests a route and estimates your journey time. And then it tracks you.

If you deviate from the route, or fail to get home in time, an alert goes to the taxi office, and to any contact you have chosen to share your walk with, and you’ll get a call to make sure you are OK.

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But there’s more; if you are in danger and press the app’s panic button, an alarm will sound with both the taxi firm and your friend. All taxis in the area will be alerted too, and can divert to help.

The SafeWalk feature is – Gavin believes – unique for a taxi company, although some universities have rolled out similar tech for their students.

Once a few niggles have been ironed out, SafeKab will launch across Gavin’s operations in Aberdeen. Enquiries have been coming in from across Scotland (including Elgin), the rest of the UK, and the US and France too. And it all started here in Inverness.

It started from Gavin’s desire to help people get home safely. Despite completing over a million taxi journeys each year, Inverness Taxis often experience more demand than they have cars. This is just one way to help those who can’t get a taxi home at late o’clock on a Saturday night.

Gavin hopes the app’s panic button feature will never be used, but if it is invoked, and intervention prevents an attack, it will all have been worth it.

SafeKabs, SafeWalk. It makes sense to me.

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