Watch out Uber and Lyft—there’s a new ridesharing service in town and it’s specifically for women—passengers and drivers.
Artist Heidi Beck just started driving for Safr, a ridesharing service specifically targeted toward serving women. She also drives for Uber and Lyft and says for the most part, she feels safe when she’s shuttling strangers but says concern about her safety always lingers in the back of her mind.
“I'm out at night. It's always possible that someone could get in my car, you know it could be anyone, but it would be more likely that it would be [sic] someone that was not a woman,” Beck said.
Safr not only wants to eliminate that fear, it also wants to level the rideshare economy playing field for women, says company marketing manager Joanna Humphrey-Flynn.
“Women do have to think about these things,” Humphrey-Flynn said. “Because of it, they're currently blocked out of the rideshare economy right now and that's just not fair and we really just want to bring equality to that.”
Male drivers dominate the rideshare economy. Women only account for 19 percent of Uber’s driver workforce and 30 percent of Lyft’s. Women drivers also earn less. Safr could change that.
“That is primarily due to the fact that they're not driving during peak hours which is evenings and weekends, when they don't feel safe and comfortable picking up people,” Humphrey-Flynn said.
Safr is hiring male drivers and will pick up male passengers, but unlike other ridesharing services, both the passenger and driver make a choice about gender. Still, Humphrey-Flynn emphasizes that they are marketing specifically to women.
“We are a ridesharing service for women. We market to women, just like L’Oreal is a makeup brand for women,” she said. “They market to women—can't stop men from using it. We certainly can't stop men from you know, applying, or driving or riding with Safr, but we are a ridesharing service for women.”
This could be a problem, according to Sarah Wunsch of the ACLU of Massachusetts, who says Safr could still be in violation of anti-discrimination laws under the public accommodations statute since they’re providing a transportation service, not a product.
“I just think we can’t operate public accommodations or employment on the basis of stereotypes,” said Wunsch. “They, for too long, have been used against women to keep women out of various things. So, I don’t think it’s a very good idea to continue to operate based on those stereotypes.”
Stereotypes or not, Joanna Humphrey-Flynn says Safr is getting flooded with driver applications from women who’ve never driven for other ridesharing companies.
“We have teachers who, you know, as much as they love teaching, it's just not paying the bills,” she said. “A lot of part-time jobs don't allow the same kind of flexibility as ridesharing.”
Safr is also considering global expansion in countries where it’s culturally frowned upon for women to drive with men they don’t know. The demand is there both at home and abroad, and for drivers like Heidi Beck, it’s a no-brainer.
“It's about sending a message that all people should be able to work and live in the climate of feeling like they are empowered.”