It was late at night in downtown Toronto and Aisha Addo hopped into a cab for the long trek back to her home in Mississauga. The driver started up a conversation but soon began making sexual comments and asking personal questions, like whether the Addo lived alone. “You know when you’re in a situation and you just get this feeling that there’s something weird or off?” she says. “It was like that.” Feeling uncomfortable, Addo called a friend who stayed on the phone with her until she arrived safely at her home—but the experience stayed with her long after she exited the cab. “I shouldn’t have to worry about my girls being in a car or have to stay on the phone to make sure that they actually get home safe,” she says. “It’s really important to have an option.”
So the 24-year-old, who came to Canada from Ghana more than a decade ago, took it upon herself to create one. DriveHer, which is planning to launch in the Greater Toronto Area this August, is an Uber-like ridesharing platform to connect female passengers with female drivers—intended to ensure a safe ride for both parties.
We caught up with the young entrepreneur to find out more about DriveHer, why it’s needed and how she’s responding to critics.
How did your experience translate into an idea for a business?
It made me realize that this is a problem—and it’s still an issue today. There have been stories about passengers being assaulted by their Uber drivers, and recently, there was an incident of a woman being groped and touched inappropriately by a taxi driver. We’re not trying to say that all taxi or Uber drivers are bad people, we’re just saying that this is happening too often and there is an alternative.
Why start your own company versus pitch an existing cab company the idea of a female-only fleet?
The taxi industry is such a male-dominated industry so I thought that it would be more powerful as a female-run business rather than a part of a big corporation. I felt like that wouldn’t have the same effect.
Why do you think creating an all-female rideshare program will make a difference when it comes to safety?
The other day, my friend called for an Uber and when she found out the driver was a woman we were so excited. It was just this unspoken bond, you know? When we entered the car, we were all really comfortable, having conversations. I asked the driver: if there was a service like this but that was only driven by and only picked up women, would you choose that over Uber? She said, “Absolutely, I would not think twice.” For me, that just put it in perspective.
How does this service help more than just the passengers?
One of the things I realized was that we’re focused on the passengers but this is also about the drivers. Most taxi drivers are men [85.1 per cent of taxi drivers are male according to the most recent census data], so we’re hoping to help empower more women to join this industry—and feel safe at the same time. As a driver, your back is to the passenger, you can’t really see them or know what they’re doing. If you’re an Uber driver, you have the option to accept a call or not, but sometimes it’s tough to see who you’ll be picking up. With all-female drivers and passengers, we create a level of comfort that goes both ways. The drivers don’t have to worry about picking up, for example, a bunch of rowdy guys who might have had too much to drink.
Some critics have said that women have been driving in cabs for years and nothing needs to change. What do you say to that?
I don’t know if that opinion comes from an industry that is set in its ways, but I just feel like we’re providing an option—just like when you go for coffee and there are multiple different shops. If you’re a woman and you feel safe in a taxi or an Uber, then of course, go ahead and take that. But if you feel unsafe, this is something that can help. When you’re not presented with options, you end up going with what’s there. We’re just giving women a choice.
Other critics have said that this service could segregate transportation into male- and female-only vehicles. What’s your take?
It’s not like we’re going to be taking all of the female passengers. It’s just one of many services available. There are services out there that are specifically for men, or women, or that are gender-neutral. Does that mean we’re creating some sort of divide between the two? No, we’re just creating options. That’s what a lot of people are missing.
How have you been finding female drivers?
Drivers can register on our site, and we have about 20 signed up at the moment—and that was just through word of mouth and social media. Hopefully the more people that find out about it, the more sign ups we’ll get. We’re hoping to launch the business in August with at least 50 drivers, and expand from there.
Will women be able to hail a DriveHer car or do they have to order one?
It will be a private transportation company, just like Uber, where you order a ride through the app, and the women that are driving will be using their own cars.
When can women use DriveHer?
It’s an anytime service, but we’re planning to have more drivers on the roads for peak times like evenings and weekends.
What are the rates going to be?
We’re hoping to ensure that it’s affordable for women. However, the city just came out with new rules for Uber, starting July 1, where the base fare has to be the same as that of the taxi industry so we’re still trying to find ways to make sure we can make pricing as competitive as we can.
What about passengers who don’t identify as a particular gender?
It is something that we’re looking into because we really want to create that safe space for people who are going to be using our service. Anyone who identifies as a woman, including trans or queer women, are welcome to use DriveHer. We’re still trying to see how we can make it accessible to people who do not identify as a gender and who still have a need for a safe ride.
What about girls who are traveling with a guy?
If both passengers are going to the same destination, then I would say you should use an alternative service. But, if the woman is being dropped at a later stop, then I would say that yes, our service is an option. When a passenger requests a ride, she can give notes to the driver, so that would be where she could put in that type of detail. The ultimate decision would be up to the driver.
What has the response been so far?
It’s been really amazing. One of the things that really touched my heart is the validation from other women who have actually experienced some of these uncomfortable situations with taxi or Uber drivers. To have a community of women saying, “It’s not just you, I actually had this happen to me too and if this service was around, maybe the outcome would’ve been different.” It really motivates me, knowing that this is bigger than me, or my direct community, it’s a movement.
What’s your hope for this business?
Once we are in operation and we are making some profit, we would really love to support female-based charities. Long term, we hope to be able to provide free rides to women who are fleeing abusive situations and help get them to either shelters or wherever it is they need to go. That’s really dear to my heart because when we’re talking about violence against women, it’s not just creating a safe space in terms of transportation, it’s about the issue as a whole.
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