A new ride-hailing app is aiming to compete with Uber by catering exclusively to women, but there are still some hurdles to getting it mainstream.
Chariot for Women generated a lot of interest when it was announced a few weeks ago as a ride-hailing service that will only drive children under 13 and women. Founder Michael Pelletz, a former Uber driver, told Tech Insider that the idea was born out of a need to make ride-hailing safe for women.
The simple truth is women are at greater risk when hailing rides home. For example, a BuzzFeed investigation found that there were 6,160 Uber customer support tickets for sexual assault and 5,827 for rape on Uber’s customer support platform.
In a statement to BuzzFeed, Uber argued these numbers are not representative, stating that between December 2012 and August 2015 the company has received five claims of rape and “fewer than” 170 claims of sexual assault directly related to an Uber driver.
But Uber isn’t the only car service with this problem. In New York City, 8.4% of reported rapes were committed by for-hire cabbies in 2015, according to the NYPD. It’s also worth noting that rape is a seriously underreported crime.
And it also doesn’t help that the response to the issue has been anything short of victim blaming.
“One of the areas of concern that we have is particularly young women coming out of clubs and bars,” NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said during a January radio interview on WNYC. “They’re by themselves and intoxicated getting into a cab… and we’ve seen an increase in assaults in those instances. So we’re encouraging women to adopt the buddy system.”
Requiring women to have an escort at all times might seem like a good idea to the NYPD, but Pelletz aims to tackle the issue of rape culture head-on by making a business specifically designed to keep women safe. All of the drivers will be women who go through extensive background checks. Drivers will also need to use a safe word and scan their faces through the app to verify their identity to the passenger.
“In my eight months of driving [Uber], I had 1,200 passengers in my car and the horror stories women told me shocked me,” Pelletz told Tech Insider. “From an inappropriate conversation with a driver about sex to the Uber driver locking the car and asking for a kiss…. It’s not safe.”
An Uber spokesperson responded to Pelletz’s account with the following statement:
“Uber’s technology makes it possible to focus on safety for riders and drivers before, during, and after every trip in ways that have never been possible before. Our technology eliminates nighttime street hails, allows riders to see their route in a map in the app, enables you to share your estimated time of arrival and location with friends and family, and eliminates the need for cash.”
The general premise of Chariot for Women is a solid one that’s been executed outside the US. There are women-only taxi firms like London Lady Chauffeurs and Pink Ladies in Warrington, England. There’s also Priyadarshini Taxi and Viira Cabs that cater to women exclusively in India.
Chariot for Women has raised just under $30,000 through a friend of Pelletz’s. He added that they have generated a lot of interest among investors, but the app has yet to go through any rounds of funding.
What may actually stand in Chariot for Women’s way is its execution. The new service was initially set for a trial in Boston for 1,000 drivers, but so many women started signing up for the app that Pelletz called off the trial in favour of launching nationally in “a few months.”
So far, anywhere between 6,000 to 8,000 women have applied to be drivers. Considering they still have to go through background checks to get hired, it’s unclear how many drivers that will ultimately amount to. But demand is surging with “hundreds applying by the hour,” Pelletz said.
The demand is so high that Pelletz wants to launch nationally, and not just in big cities. He said he wants to launch with a significant amount of drivers in suburban areas, as well.
“This is a huge huge market that Uber and Lyft missed out on,” Pelletz said. “If you’re an Uber driver, you don’t have any business in a suburb or rural area.”
Launching nationally is a pretty lofty goal. Even Uber and Lyft have grown by launching in different markets over time, simultaneously building a backing and generating interest. And even if Chariot for Women is seeing large driver demand now, that could very well fall after the initial press rush. The company also faces the challenge of getting its name out to consumers in an incredibly competitive sphere.
Not to mention, Chariot for Women could be considered discriminatory by only hiring women and therefore illegal, as noted by the Washington Post.
But as a woman who has taken her fair share of sketchy cab rides, it’s nice to see a high-demand service offering safe rides for women could be out there.