SheRides, an Uber-like app that connects women with female car drivers, began service in New York City, Westchester County and Long Island on Oct. 29 after a month of delays caused by a need for more female drivers. Referred to as SheTaxis outside of the city, the app is a direct response to women feeling uncomfortable in taxis. The company has received criticisms for reinforcing gender stereotypes and intolerance toward men. In practice, SheRides attempts to avoid prejudice based on gender, but its primary business model falls short of this goal. The service is a small example of a lawful inequity, but one that is necessary in a society where women feel unsafe.
Because the service overtly caters to women, legal critics have condemned SheRides for advocating gender discrimination. Only women can specifically request a female driver, but nothing prevents men from using the app or receiving service. Men are allowed to use the service, but as it is currently advertised, SheRides undeniably seems unfair to them. And while the company’s gender bias raises questions about the fairness of its business policies, representatives of the New York City Commission on Human Rights have found nothing to determine the company’s targeting of women to be illegal.
In an industry dominated by male drivers — 95 percent of for-hire cabbies and 99 percent of yellow taxi drivers are men — the service simply offers rides for women who feel uncomfortable with the near-certainty of having a male driver. While the current livery business may not advertise male-specific services, the high proportion of male drivers implicitly prioritizes men. SheRides will provide the opportunity for women to break into an industry that is dominated by males. By recruiting female drivers, SheRides makes these jobs accessible to women, thus promoting gender equality in the taxi industry.
Women’s safety concerns validate the need for this service. Females may feel uncomfortable being alone in a taxi with a male driver, especially late at night. Religious reasons may also make women disinclined to be driven by a male. Women have recently reported incidents of sexual harassment by male Uber drivers, highlighting the danger women may experience. Having a female driver can make women feel more relaxed and safe in a taxi.
Although denying a person a ride based on their gender would be considered unjust, SheRides’ ability to connect women to primarily female drivers provides a preferred alternative in a predominantly male industry. Perhaps rather than focusing criticism on the overt gender discrimination of SheRides, public officials and potential litigators should consider the existence of this app as a call to improve the conditions that make women feel unsafe in the first place.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Nov. 13 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]