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Women-only ride-hailing services not on the map for the future, report says

(Daily Bruin/Alice Lu)

By Deanna Necula

Jan. 24, 2019 12:26 a.m.

A UCLA researcher said women-only ride-hailing services may make ride-hailing safer for women, but may not be economically feasible.

Christopher Tang, a distinguished professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, co-authored a report this month discussing the political and economic concerns associated with women-only ride-hailing services. The report came in the wake of several sexual assaults and murders of female passengers committed by drivers of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.

“Over the last three years, there were a series of reports about female riders … who were sexually assaulted, raped or murdered by male drivers,” the report said.

Juka Kim, a fourth-year neuroscience student, said she has at times felt unsafe in an Uber. Once, she said, she was taking an Uber during the daytime with a male driver who she said appeared to be around 50 years old. Not only did he comment on why she did not want to sit in the passenger seat beside him, but he also fixated on her Japanese heritage, claiming that she was not like other Japanese girls, Kim said.

She said she thinks a women-only ride-hailing service may be positive and would mimic women-only train cars that exist in Japan and other countries.

Uber, Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing and other ride-hailing giants have pledged to increase their safety measures in response to a widespread outcry that such companies are too lax in their background checks and safety policies, the report said.

One alternative many ride-hailing companies have considered is gender-specific rider and driver options, Tang’s report said. In addition, it said entrepreneurs have launched a number of women-only ride-hailing startups, including SheTaxis and Safr in the United States, in an attempt to provide services that exclude male drivers and riders.

“The first motivation (for women-only ride-hailing services) is safety, … then accessibility. Some women may not be able to get rides from men … (especially) in some other cultures, like (some) Muslim cultures, where men usually do not interact with women in a social setting,” Tang said.

He added not only do such services ensure a higher standard of safety and accessibility for the female passengers who request them, but they may benefit the economy by increasing job opportunities for women.

“From an economic standpoint, (such services) may create more job opportunities for female drivers, particularly for women workers in developing countries where at least they have a niche,” Tang said.

However, currently the demand for these services outstrips the supply, Tang said. He added more passengers seek out women-only ride-hailing services than there are female drivers available to fulfill that demand.

“In many countries, women are only a few percent to 20 percent of all drivers,” Tang said.

He said he thinks companies offering such services should attract more female drivers to the market by providing separate reward and pricing mechanisms for female drivers.

For example, he said he thinks female drivers should be paid more than male drivers. He said he thinks such measures are necessary because unless these services charge higher prices than usual, female drivers may have reduced earnings, and female passengers may have to wait longer to be picked up.

Tang said it’s possible male drivers will feel like these incentives provided to bolster the women-only ride-hailing market are unfair and discriminatory, but added he thinks they are necessary to encourage more female drivers.

“In some cases there’s no choice,” Tang said. “Men will understand.”

Tang added he thinks other companies or the government should subsidize these services to enable them to thrive.

He said he also thinks that in addition to women-only services, existing services like Uber and Lyft can help remedy safety concerns by providing more information to passengers and drivers about who they will be riding with.

Tang said he thinks Uber and other ride-hailing services should allow both riders and drivers to submit comments that would provide other users with general indexes about how courteous and safe the other party was, instead of providing merely a numerical rating.

He said he realizes people may have worries about discrimination, but thinks that providing more open information about drivers and riders may help decrease bias.

For example, he said he thinks that drivers or riders who might otherwise face discrimination for their race, gender, religion or other aspects of their identity visible in their name, photograph or other indicators might be less exposed to bias once users are able to comment on the positive experiences they had with a certain individual.

Lucero Herrera, a researcher at the UCLA Labor Center and a co-author of a 2018 report that revealed some of the poor work conditions that Uber and Lyft drivers face, said she thinks women-only ride-hailing services, while commendable in their attempts to address safety concerns, may face legal challenges.

She said she thinks such services could be perceived to be in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. By introducing the criteria of gender to enable driver and passenger selection, these services could be perpetuating a form of gender-based discrimination, she said.

Despite these concerns, Herrera said she thinks that these services are addressing safety issues that affect the vast majority of female drivers.

“Currently, the majority of women drivers only drive during the day, preferring the morning, and avoid drunk or under-the-influence riders,” she said.

Apart from women-only ride-hailing services, Herrera thinks existing services should implement more rigorous safety standards, including stricter background checks for drivers. Drivers often do not have enough information to cancel a ride and are wary of penalties they might incur if they do so, she said.

“It’s clear that these companies have to do better by their employees, for the benefit of their safety and for the safety of their riders,” Herrera said.

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Deanna Necula
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