Women Only Uber Alternative Faces Legal Battle
Recently a new ridesharing company similar to Uber and Lyft began developing its plans to expand across the country. It’s called Safeher, a name that was crowd- sourced to replace the original moniker, Chariot for Women, and it employs only female drivers as well as exclusively serving women and kids under 13, including individuals who identify as female.
Michael Pelletz, a former Uber driver, developed the plan with his wife Kelly in response to the concerns he himself had about the high number of complaints from female riders and drivers related to harassment and assault. After having his own sketchy experience with a passenger, he decided something had to change.
How Does it Differ from Other Ridesharing Services?
Uber has struggled with the issue of preventing unsafe situations for its female drivers and passengers. There have been numerous complaints of assault and they seem to stem from two main issues: weak initial background checks and weak paths of accountability after the fact.
Besides being exclusively female, this service seeks to elevate ridesharing safety by improving background checks and increasing accountability if something does go wrong. Better background checks will be provided through Safer Places, known for having the most stringent checks, and the Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) check, where SafeHer is based. Other measures include the use of safe words assigned only to the driver and passenger involved, no surge pricing, which is when other companies increase pricing during periods of heavy demand, and 2% of profits will go to women-centered charities.
It also differs from other services in that it pays for the background checks, plans to expand to include fingerprint checks and it will add any safety practices that emerge as necessary. Part of the nationwide rollout includes developing a plan for how to best insure drivers too. They also claim they will provide their drivers with fairer pay standards, taking 23% of the first $100 a driver earns, and then if the driver continues to work past that point, she keeps 98% of the fare, with the remaining 2% going to charity. Additionally, while drivers are contractors, the company will escrow a percentage for taxes so the driver can easily meet their tax obligations.
Why Are These New Standards Necessary?
Safety and unfair employment practices have emerged as major concerns in the rideshare industry. Companies like Uber have not adequately addressed reports of assault and harassment. For example, Buzzfeed recently leaked a surprising image of the numerous complaints related to assaults and rapes that Uber has received here.
Additionally, they burden their drivers with insurance costs and impose surge pricing on customers during periods of high demand. In fact, Uber attempted a partnership with UN Women to increase recruitment of women drivers; but the UN Women executive director backed out amidst all the controversy about safety and poor pay.
Is It Legal to Only Hire and Cater to Women?
SafeHer may be running into legal issues over their practices sooner than later. It is usually regarded as discriminatory to only hire and to only offer services to one gender. Typically in order to meet a legal standard to exclude a gender, the nature of the work needs to be highly sensitive, for example, being in the intimate and constant contact that certain guards have in a women’s prison. Since this standard is not quite met here, they will likely face legal challenges. But those challenges are not insurmountable. There are gender exclusive places like fitness centers that have been legislated as acceptable. And the Pelletzes have a legal team that is ready to address the matter, arguing that the safety issues and the lack of alternatives may make this exceptional.
What Kind of Support is SafeHer Getting?
The support for this concept is overwhelmingly enthusiastic among drivers and passengers; currently only 14% of ride share drivers at Uber are women and most of them choose not to drive at night when work is more readily available, so a safer environment may open the door to more opportunities for women drivers. In fact, the company originally intended to launch in Massachusetts and expand from there, but overwhelming demand has encouraged them to develop a nationwide launch. While some argue that this doesn’t fix the larger problem with policing these assaults, it is a solution that works for women now, when it is needed.
SafeHer has yet to face any legal challenges though it is expected that they will. In the meantime it creates a new safety standard for ridesharing regardless of whether the female- only model goes unchecked. While municipalities across the country are wrestling with guidelines that would require fingerprinting and other security measures for rideshare services, SafeHer is leaving the gate with their ducks in a row, elevating safety standards as well as providing more equitable and secure work opportunities for women.