There are plenty of ridesharing services on the market now, with Uber and Lyft being the dominant US players in this fast-growing industry. Along with their rapid growth have been more than a handful of really bad stories about folks getting assaulted, attacked, etc while taking a ride with one of these companies.
To be clear, it’s not like Uber, Lyft or other ridesharing services are the only place that people are getting assaulted in the transportation industry. A report earlier this year noted that sexual assaults in NYC taxi cabs rose in 2015 versus 2014.
However, there’s no question that these sorts of assaults are highly damaging for the reputation of companies like Uber and Lyft, especially in the face of governments trying to control the way they operate.
My wife drew my attention to a company called Chariot for Women (who may or may not have renamed themselves Safeher) a while back. The concept is pretty straight-forward. They want to be a safer version of Uber. They announced they would only hire female drivers and only pick up female passengers as well as children age 13 and under. Drivers would be subject to a stringent background test which could be more stringent than big competitors in the space (it’s unclear exactly where Uber will end up on this issue given recent changes they’ve made in security and background checks).
“The premise is the same as all the other ridesharing services,” Pelletz said in a phone interview. “There’s a driver app and a client app, except that what makes us unique is our safety feature that other apps forgot to do.” The service’s patent-pending technology gives the driver and the client a code in the app after a ride request has been made. When the car arrives, the driver and passenger make sure their codes match before the passenger gets in the car. Chariot for Women donates 2 percent of every fare to charity, and the company does not use surge charging.
In addition to only having women as drivers, Pelletz uses Safer Places, which has a reputation for performing the most stringent background checks. Chariot for Women also requires that all drivers pass Massachusetts’ Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) check, the same deep background check used in daycare centers and schools. Chariot for Women pays for the CORI check and will add fingerprinting for its drivers as soon as it’s possible.
This is one of those ideas that sounds really great. It’s kind of like saying, “Who wouldn’t want a service that helps kids from becoming abducted?” We all want to know that it’s 100% safe for our loved ones to hop in a rideshare or taxi (well, I guess the predators don’t).
In practice, it’s a lot tougher. That’s probably why they appear to have missed their April launch date. I can’t find any record of their app in the iTunes App Store.
They’re certain to get pushback on the policy of no men. From a marketing standpoint, it’s a brilliant claim to make. It drew plenty of attention from some pretty big news sources. While it may ultimately not stand up in a court of law it’s likely to bring eyeballs if they can get off the ground, which is what any startup needs?
Do We Need Another Ridesharing Company?
Probably not. But Chariot (Safeher?) might play a valuable role in this marketplace. I’m generally a fan of free markets, letting the growth of certain industries to play out without heavy-handed regulation, even though I still think Airbnb could use some.
I’ve seen plenty of stories that make my stomach turn about riders in Uber or Lyft being assaulted. You probably have as well. Maybe an entry into the market like Chariot forces a company like Uber to step up their game when it comes to safety. It’s only likely to happen if a competitor starts taking share from the big guys, and that hasn’t happened yet.
I’ll be rooting for Chariot or someone else to make some waves here and drive the focus towards safety, since I believe that path is a lot quicker than waiting for 50 states and an even larger number of cities, counties, etc to figure out regulation.
Do you think a woman-only ridesharing service makes sense? Women, would you use it over other services?
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