The story is, sadly, one we've heard before: a woman requests an Uber, is picked up by a driver, and either makes it to her destination battered, or not at all. The victim of a sexual assault, kidnapping, or murder, the woman becomes a news headline and is added to the long list of victims who've had similar experiences with a ride-sharing company.
It seems that even with stricter regulations (like more in-depth background checks of drivers), solo female passengers are still at risk for assault, kidnapping, or even murder. It's true that these kinds of things don't happen often, but the fact that they happen at all is reason enough to make many women fearful, and with good reason. As the horror stories surrounding Uber and Lyft continue, there's intensifying debate over whether or not ride-hailing and ride-sharing services are as safe as companies claim.
Enter the new Chariot For Women app, a ride-sharing service that's like Uber with a twist: it's designed specifically for women. All drivers will be women, and all passengers will be women or kids of any gender under age 13. It functions much the same as other ride-sharing services, but with additional safety measures, like more stringent background checks and driver finger printing. When a passenger requests Chariot, she and her driver are given a "safe word" used to ensure they both are meeting the right person. If either gives an incorrect word, the ride won't happen. Additionally, the app will charge no surge pricing, and 2% of its fares will go to charities for women.
The app criticizes modern society in big (but accurate) ways: the fact that a woman feels safer getting in a car with someone who is her same gender speaks volumes about how women have come to perceive strangers who are men.
Most women would acknowledge that there's a certain "creep factor" to getting in a car with a male stranger, while that's not so with female strangers. But maybe the "creep factor" is justifiable: last year, leaked photos of Uber's inbox for customer complaints revealed that, when the word "rape" was searched, over 10,000 results popped up.
The fact that a service like Chariot, which will be successful because women are victims of sexual assault more often than men, is a sobering concept. You won't see a ride-sharing service catered to male drivers and passengers pop up anytime soon. Why? Because it would serve no purpose. Uber and Lyft are dominated by men, anyway -- 86% of its drivers are male.
Although Uber has promised to diversify its driving team and hire more female drivers by 2020, they're avoiding the real problem: 2020 isn't now. What about the sexual assaults, kidnappings, beatings, harassments, or even murders that will occur in between now and then? What happens when the "more female drivers" promise backfires, and there's simply more opportunity for male passengers to harass those female drivers?
Most of the time, Uber and Lyft are safe and reliable. Sometimes, they're not. It's why, despite all the criticism Chariot has received for discrimination and gender segregation, it's an important app, and one that women everywhere should probably download.
Chariot For Women will launch in and around the Boston area on April 19. It remains to be seen whether or not it'll be successful. But the concept is a good one, and a necessary one.
It's also an incredibly unfortunate one.