Aisha Addo was in a taxi late one night, travelling from downtown Toronto to her home in Mississauga, when her cab driver began to ask some personal questions that made her feel uncomfortable. To curtail the conversation with him and ease her discomfort, she called a friend who chatted with her until she reached her home.
That’s when it occurred to her: women shouldn’t have to worry about getting home safely when they take a cab. Her knee-jerk response was to create DriveHER, a ride-share service operated exclusively by women for women, which is set to launch this summer.
Much like Uber, DriveHER is an app that women can download and use to book a car service. All the drivers are female and the clientele is women.
“If a couple [female and male] are travelling together and going to the same destination, it will be up to the driver if she wants to take them,” Addo says to Global News. “But if it’s multiple passengers going to different destinations, a woman has to be the final drop-off. We want safety for our drivers just as much as our passengers.”
A similar service, called Lady Drive-Her, launched last week in Halifax. Co-founder Crissy McDow, who has been working and operating car service companies for 28 years, said the idea came to her years ago.
“I was getting calls asking for female drivers, but I’m the only one,” she told Global News.
She’s recruited 10 drivers — all the women who operate at the airport — and they’ll transport anyone who calls them.
“Men will call and book a female driver to take their kids or teens to the airport, or they’ll ask for a pickup for their girlfriend,” McDow says. “We don’t ask why, we just drive anyone who calls.” Even men.
Yet, despite McDow’s indiscriminate business plan, her male detractors have been rather vocal.
During a CBC interview Tuesday that took place at Halifax International Airport, two male taxi drivers on the scene expressed their criticism of the plan.
“Once you say you’re women drivers and you can choose us, you’re kind of encouraging them to be discriminatory against men,” limousine driver Lucien Jebailey said.
His colleague, Rick Watts, echoed his concerns: “I couldn’t start a white male, for instance, limo service. [Lucien] couldn’t have a Middle Eastern service only.”
But that’s not the point, McDow says.
“I don’t want to come across as sexist or discredit any male drivers,” she says. “I want women and men to have a choice.”
But even the men who praise the idea of a female-led car service don’t think there’s a place for it.
“I honestly don’t think women will take it,” a spokesperson for Toronto Car Service says to Global News. “We have a good infrastructure of law and safety in Canada that takes care of women. The few incidents [of sexual assault in ride-share vehicles] that have occurred don’t represent the whole society.”
The women founding these businesses would likely disagree with that, however. According to Who’s Driving You?, a public awareness initiative of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association in Washington, D.C., there have been 225 reports of alleged sexual assaults by Uber and Lyft drivers in Canada and the U.S. since 2013.
In May, there were two separate reports of Uber drivers assaulting their female passengers in Toronto — one driver was charged with forcible confinement, kidnapping and assault, and another with sexual assault and sexual interference. These incidents come on the heels of a Halifax taxi driver who was acquitted of sexually assaulting a female passenger. That case is being appealed.
Ultimately, however, the Toronto Car Service spokesman says, the introduction of these women-only services “won’t affect us at all.” And he calls the competition “healthy.”
Kristine Hubbard, operations manager of Beck Taxi in Toronto, agrees with the concept, but feels these services are exclusionary to other vulnerable people in our society.
“We’ve been transporting a variety of vulnerable people in our city, including women travelling alone, children and elderly people,” she says to Global News. “If we say yes to some and not to others we’re not making our service accessible to everyone who needs it.”
Members of the LGBTQ community often feel vulnerable, but they might find it difficult to fit into this model. Addo is aware of this and is working to find a way to manage customers and drivers who are gender fluid.
“We’re working with an equity organization to help navigate that,” she says. “But we’re definitely open to transgender women and those who identify as women.”
Aside from that hurdle, Addo says her business is almost ready to launch and she’s been receiving daily emails and phone calls asking for service.
“It’s been reaffirming to hear support from both men and women,” she says. “Especially fathers who say they feel better knowing that their daughters can take our service.”