In the rideshare industry, only two companies rule the roost – Uber and Lyft. But recently the introduction of women-only rideshare apps has been making headlines.
Women-only rideshare is exactly what it sounds like: car-hailing apps with only women passengers and drivers. In the wake of numerous sexual assault reports to Uber, women-only rideshare became notable as a “safe” alternative for women’s on-demand transportation.
But this brings up many questions: how is it legal to only serve women? Is the answer for women’s transportation safety an entirely separate mode? And how many women want this?
There are three notable women-only rideshare companies: SheTaxis (known as SheRides in New York City) was the first; Safr (previously known as Chariot for Women and then SafeRide) launched last spring in Boston; and See Jane Go in Orange County launched last year and has been operating for six months.
But are these companies operating a legal business? Safr ruffled some feathers in Boston last year. “There’s nothing wrong with advertising particularly to a female customer base,” said a Boston-based lawyer. “But if a company goes further and refuses to pick up a man, I think they’d potentially run into legal trouble.”
See Jane Go’s Chief Operating Officer Cassandra Miller says that both hiring only women and serving only women is completely legal. “Male users of See Jane Go get referred to a third party when they use the app,” she told Eno. “Our drivers are independent contractors, not employees.” She told Eno that through bona fide occupational qualification, a feature of employment law that allows organizations to hire based on characteristics that are essential to their business function, See Jane Go can legally hire only women contractors.
However, despite sharing similar missions, none of these companies were founded by women who experienced discomfort – to say the least – during a rideshare trip. Yet each company has a completely different origin story: SheRides, a minority and woman-owned business, was created by the wife of the founder of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers. Stella Mateo’s experience volunteering with the Federation led her to believe that “women’s voices were severely underrepresented in the [taxi] industry,” according to her bio.
Meanwhile, Safr was founded by former Uber driver Michael Pelletz. Picking up women late at night made him fear for his own wife and daughters using Uber alone, inspiring him to bring women-only rideshare to Boston. Similarly, See Jane Go was founded by an 18-year-old girl and her father in “a moment of fatherly protection,” according to the website. Savannah Jordan and her father William were uncomfortable with Savannah using rideshare alone with a male driver.
The emphasis on women’s safety isn’t the only selling point for these companies: all three promote women-only rideshare as a means for more women to earn extra income by becoming drivers, as only 14 percent of Uber’s drivers are women. “We’re removing barriers for women’s access to the sharing economy,” said Ms. Miller. She said that half of of See Jane Go’s 1000 drivers are women who did not want to drive for Uber or Lyft because of discomfort over driving men they did not know.
Women-only rideshare and other transportation modes are prominent in other countries. After an Uber driver was found guilty of raping a female passenger in Delhi, Sahka Cabs for Women, an app-based taxi service, launched in 2016. In addition, metro systems in Japan, Mexico, and India feature women-only subway cars.