When Uber and Lyft abruptly exited Austin after a legislative battle over driving screening, data reporting and more, a raft of ride-hailing options sprung up to fill the need. Now one of them, nonprofit TNC RideAustin, is rolling out a new feature that aims to meet another demand: the app’s users will now be able to request a female driver, Austin Business Journal reports.
“The request for a female driver has come up, and there are potentially some people who do not elect to use ride-sharing today because they do not feel comfortable riding with a stranger,” said RideAustin COO Marisa Goldenberg.
Any passenger, male or female, can request a female driver, but drivers can reject those requests without negatively affecting their acceptance rate. That distinguishes RideAustin’s move from other ride-sharing apps, like SafeHer (formerly Chariot for Women) and See Jane Go, that cater to women only, as passengers and as drivers.
Each of these ventures has raised questions about civil rights violations and business viability. It’s a pretty niche customer base these apps are chasing: women who use ride-hailing apps but are concerned enough about their safety to download a female-only app that may be less convenient and cost a little more. SheRides, for example, a taxi firm by women and for women that launched in New York in 2014, seems to have folded.
RideAustin may be able to skirt some of the controversy because the platform will still welcome men and women as passengers and drivers. Still, a local radio host and others have criticized the concept as “needlessly progressive.”
“When you have a majority of drivers who are male, and they are sitting around doing nothing as the female drivers are running around pell-mell all over the city trying to catch all these rides,” said driver and conservative radio host Mike Allen during his Wednesday broadcast, “you are going to have a minority of female drivers in RideAustin just raking up all the rides while all us guys are sitting around going to other platforms because we have no rides.”
“We recognize that this could lead to some controversy,” Goldbenberg said. “We do believe that to push the future of ride-sharing, we have to have these debates.”
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.