Even though he's co-owner of Tunik Taxi, Paul Puqiqnak still takes some evening shifts behind the wheel.
It's not new to him. He used to drive a cab for his cousin, Andrew Porter, about a dozen years ago.
“I really enjoy driving the taxi. I enjoy people's company ... hearing their stories and laughs,” said Puqiqnak, who holds down a government job during the day.
Using a 2015 Ford F-150, Paul and his wife Abby filled a void and got their own cab company rolling in December, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, when all sorts of public health restrictions were in place. Despite the limitations, there's been sufficient demand for their service, particularly on Fridays, Saturdays and stretches when the thermometer dips to -40 C and below.
“It's really running good ... we get a lot of positive feedback from community members,” Paul said, adding that they plan to add a second cab, which may arrive on sealift later this year. “There was definitely a need ... I'd like to keep this taxi business for a long time.”
They've already expanded their business by starting to offer a vehicle rental earlier this month. There too, Paul said he expects an increase in need as Covid vaccinations progress and business visitors and tourists once again return to the community.
Tunik Taxi, which runs 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., currently employ two community members. The company's moniker is based on Paul's Inuktitut nickname.
Getting the venture off the ground was “quite complicated,” Paul said, referring to the paperwork for obtaining a business licence and insurance, among other mandatory filings.
Mayor Megan Porter said the community is happy to have access to a taxi again after four years without any.
“People have a new sense of freedom because they can safely get around the community in a timely manner. People are no longer anxious about missing flights and trying to figure out how to get deliveries home from the airport or the post office,” Porter said. “Our community is growing and is very spread out. The taxi makes travel so much easier for those who are challenged to walk and for those who don't have any other means of transportation.”
Although there have been no cases of Covid in Gjoa Haven, the cab company takes cleaning seriously and the Kivalliq Inuit Association chipped in with some funds to help with the purchase of sanitization supplies. The Department of Economic Development and Transportation also provided some Covid relief financial assistance, Paul noted.
One challenge for some prospective taxi cab entrepreneurs in small communities is the absence of a vehicle mechanic who can keep the car or truck on the road. In Gjoa Haven, CAP Enterprises is able to do that, and the Tunik pickup truck was recently repaired there.
“We thank them so much for keeping our taxi on the road,” said Paul.
It's important to him and Abby to find ways to give back to the community as well, he said. They provided a box of groceries for Elders over the Christmas holidays. They purchased a camping blanket for a local man who has been a valuable search and rescue volunteer. They also donated sandwiches to volunteers at the local radio station.
Paul is also planning to sponsor a Gjoa Haven senior men's hockey team. He wants to buy the players jerseys – and they will look similar to those of the Toronto Maple Leafs, his favourite NHL squad.
“I'm very community-involved and I like to take part in the community as well,” he said.