Aisha Addo, founder of DriveHer, a ride-hailing service for women, poses for a photo in Toronto on Saturday, March 31, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Demand growing for female-only ride-hailing apps

Female-centred ride-hailing apps on the rise in spite of hurdles, women say

The women behind the slowly growing number of ride-hailing apps catering to female passengers and drivers say the hurdles they’ve had to overcome to get their services on the road demonstrate exactly why they’re necessary in the first place.

Women from Halifax to Vancouver Island have tried to launch female-only alternatives to services such as Uber and Lyft, but most have run into barriers ranging from municipal regulations to societal attitudes.

RELATED: Uber official says public needs to push for ridesharing in B.C.

The founders of the handful of such services currently operating say they’re experiencing incredible demand from women seeking a greater sense of safety in their daily travels.

They say it’s common for women to feel uncomfortable riding alone with strangers, but some recent high-profile cases involving sexual assault allegations against drivers have further highlighted the need to provide an alternative.

A female ride-hailing service got rolling in Toronto in mid March, while efforts are underway in at least three other cities to either get a similar service off the ground or expand the range of one that already exists.

The women say attitudes of city officials and local residents have made their efforts feel like an exhausting fight, but they’re determined to carry on.

“The fact that you have a problem with this … proves that we cannot have anything for ourselves without getting shamed for it,” said Aisha Addo, founder of Toronto ride-hailing service DriveHer.

RELATED: B.C. politicians tackle ride-hailing rules

Addo said the idea for the service provided by and for women came to her one night while driving alone with a licensed male cab driver to a suburb west of the city.

She said the chatty driver began asking her increasingly personal questions, such as her dating status and whether or not she lived alone. She said his questions persisted even after she called a female friend in a bid to deflect his attention.

She asked the driver to drop her a block or two from home and eventually arrived safely, but said the experience alerted her to the need for more choice in the city’s transportation sector.

The eventual launch of DriveHer, which opened for business in mid-March, has persuaded Addo that she’s on the right track.

More than a hundred female drivers signed up to participate, she said, and the response among passengers has been even more striking — the app has been downloaded more than 3,000 times on Android and iOS in the past two weeks.

But the warm reception she’s received since the launch contrasted with the resistance she faced when trying to get the project off the ground.

Addo said the greatest challenge was convincing people that DriveHer was not discriminatory, and she had to engage a human rights lawyer to make that case to city officials before the service could launch.

That lawyer, Saron Gebresellassi, said in an email that DriveHer is “entirely compliant with provincial human rights legislation.”

In a statement sent to city officials and provided to The Canadian Press, Gebresellassi explained that the company helps promote “substantive equality” as it addresses inequities experienced by women accessing transportation services.

Gebresellassi also noted that the city of Toronto offers an array of activities and social services solely for women, including shelters and counselling.

But municipal officials weren’t the only ones who needed persuading, Addo said. She’s been confronted by men who insist the DriveHer app violates their rights — an argument that doesn’t hold water for Marcy Segal, a Toronto-based criminal lawyer and women’s rights advocate.

“There’s no prejudice to the men,” Segal said, adding that gender-designated services such as shelters and washrooms exist without controversy.

“They’re not going to be stranded. There’s other alternatives for them to get around…. Men aren’t being persecuted by not availing themselves of this taxi service.”

The website for DriveHer addresses the question of how it handles male passengers who are travelling with female companions.

A ”Frequently Asked Questions” section says it’s up to the driver whether to take them or “refer them to another service,” such as Uber or a traditional taxi.

Some feminists, too, balk at the idea of gender-segregated transportation options, which have gained traction around the world.

Some countries, including China and Mexico, have gone so far as to designate women-only subway cars decked out in pink and intended to provide female passengers greater safety on public transit.

Julie Lalonde, director of the Ottawa chapter of anti-harassment group Hollaback, said many women feel gender-specific options do little to address the root causes of why women feel unsafe in their travels.

She said some feminists also fear they exacerbate the risk that victims of assault may be blamed for their ordeal if they opt to take the mainstream option instead of the gender-specific alternative.

Lalonde said she believes there’s room for both perspectives.

“Women should do whatever makes them feel safe, and so to me things like DriveHer are short-term solutions,” she said. “But I’m interested in that broader, long-term work of ensuring that all forms of transit are safe for everyone.”

Some of the ride-hailing services launched in Canada have proven to be short-term options for entirely different reasons.

The CabShe service in Kitchener, Ont. operated briefly before being shut down due to municipal licensing requirements. A post on the organization’s Facebook page indicates the women behind it are working to resolve the issue and hope to be up and running again by this spring.

Meantime, residents of Vancouver Island may soon have a female-only service available if the three women behind it can secure the necessary approvals.

Other services have launched successfully and are operating today. In Winnipeg, Ikwe Safe Ride offers a service geared towards Indigenous women and children.

And since June 2017, Lady DriveHer has been doing a booming business in Halifax. Earlier that year, a cab driver was acquitted of sexually assaulting a female passenger, despite police testimony that she was partially naked in the back of the vehicle and far from her home or pickup address. An appeal court ordered a new trial for the man earlier this year.

Lady DriveHer Founder Crissy McDow said city rules have kept her from serving the entire city, but she and her 11 fellow female drivers currently find work 24 hours a day taking passengers to and from the city airport.

She said “her ladies,” who are outnumbered more than 15 to one by male drivers, now face bullying and sabotage from the men with whom they used to peacefully share the road. But McDow said her phone is “ringing off the hook” with requests from men and women alike, strengthening her resolve to expand the service as soon as she can.

“I think it’s time the public knows there are women operating in a male-dominated industry,” she said. “You have a choice now.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

District of Barriere corrects letter writer, says dogs must be leashed in Barriere Parks

To the editor; In today’s edition of the newspaper (May 23, 2019),… Continue reading

224 members attend 4-H Rally at Agriplex

Annual 4-H Rally at the North Thompson Agriplex welcomed both junior and… Continue reading

North Thompson Spartans win Zones

By Jill Hayward Congratulations to the North Thompson Spartans Senior 7s Rugby… Continue reading

Barriere Babies of 2018 Party happening June 7

If you live in the area and your baby was born in 2018, you’re invited

No public input received on proposed rezoning for McLure cannabis store

Board votes water meters to be installed in all TNRD Community Water Systems over the next couple of years

600 new campsites coming to provincial parks and recreation sites across B.C.

Tourism Minister announced half of the new spots to 13 most popular provincial parks

Raptors beat Bucks 105-99 to move within 1 game of NBA Finals

Leonard scores 35 as Toronto takes 3-2 series lead over Milwaukee

Municipalities protest after B.C. declares marijuana crops ‘farm use’

UBCM president seeks answers in letter to John Horgan government

CMHC defends mortgage stress test changes amid calls for loosening rules

Uninsured borrowers must now show they could service their mortgage if rates rose two per cent

Nisga’a Nation tourism industry hits the road

First pilot tour to the Nass Valley is set for this summer with Indigenous Tourism BC

B.C. woman left ‘black and blue’ after being pushed off 40-foot cliff at lake

West Shore RCMP looking for witnesses as investigation continues

Thunderstorms to bring heavy rain, risk of flash floods in the southern Interior

Ten to 30 millimetres of rain to fall over the early weekend

Unbe-leaf-able: Agassiz man finds more than 200 four-leaf clovers in a month

Walt Hardinge has found more than 219 four-or-more leaf clovers this spring alone

Crews fight fire with fire to keep blaze from northern Alberta town

The wildfire now covers some 920 square kilometres

Most Read