Uber driver Michael Pelletz is launching a new ridesharing service with a twist: All the drivers and passengers will be women. Chariot for Women will be active in the Boston area on April 19. But does the world need another ridesharing service? Especially one so specific? It turns out maybe it does.
“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.
The service will also pick up kids of any gender under age 13, as well as anyone of any age who identifies as a woman. “If they’re trans and identify as a woman, they can drive and ride with us, no problem at all,” Pelletz said.
There are likely legal difficulties ahead for a service that states outright that it will not serve men. That doesn’t worry Pelletz. “We look forward to legal challenges. We want to show there’s inequality in safety in our industry. We hope to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to say that if there’s safety involved, there’s nothing wrong with providing a service for women.”
That safety issue is making headlines lately, especially for Uber. BuzzFeed obtained screenshots in March showing thousands of complaints against the company seeming to involve rape and sexual assault. In December 2014, an Uber driver in India was arrested on suspicion of raping a passenger. And just today, Uber agreed to pay $25 million for overstating the thoroughness of its background checks.
“We’re doing this because there is such inequality when it comes to security that afflicts driver and rider due to gender,” Pelletz reiterated. “Women are across the world the ones being harassed and assaulted by male drivers. In my eight months as an Uber driver, I didn’t hear any negative feedback from men.”
There’s also the question of whether this is empowering women or patronizing them. So I put the question to social media and, to my surprise, got a unanimous response: yes, if there were a women-only ridesharing service, every woman who answered my question would use it. Women in my unscientific poll mentioned feeling anxious when they get in a car with a strange man, not trusting the vetting process used by current services and the “creep factor.” The enthusiasm for an all-female service ranged from “I would be all over it” to “HELL YES” [caps hers]. And one woman pretty much summed up the issue with her response: “Honestly, yes, probably. I do sigh in relief when I get into a car with a woman.”
“Our goal is that in five years, we want this issue to not even be an issue anymore,” said Pelletz. “We hope other rideshare companies follow in our footsteps to make it safer. Right now, that safety is not happening.”