If you’re a woman looking for a female cabbie, there’s now an app for that.
SheTaxis is a recently launched start-up that connects female passengers with female drivers in the New York City area though an iPhone application. Within New York City limits, the company is called SheRides because the city regulates how the word “taxi” can be used in the name of a business.
One customer, Bianca Lacayo, said many benefits come along with being able to choose the gender of your driver, “Being with a woman driver gives you freedom. You know, if you need to change from business attire to evening wear, it’s a 1-2-3 process.”
The company’s founder and president, Stella Mateo, got the idea when she discovered similar car services have flourished in places like India and South Africa and several Middle Eastern cities.
Mateo was also aware of the lack of gender diversity in the car service industry through her work as an advocate for drivers. Mateo and her husband, Fernando, started the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers 16 years ago; it’s one of the state’s largest organizations formed to support the needs of drivers.
In New York City there are 50,000 cab, livery and black car drivers, but only about 5 percent are women.
Mateo says the work is ideal for women who want to be in charge of their own schedule and get on the road when they can, so they can work around their family’s agenda.
One of the company’s drivers, Nancy, who didn’t want to reveal her last name, is a single mother raising three daughters. She enjoys being her own boss and said it’s a lucrative job, “It’s amazing that you can make more money as a taxi driver than in your profession.”
Nancy said some drivers make up to $2,000 in a busy week. She generally works eight-hour days six days a week. She’s able to pay all of her bills and hopes to retire within 10 years.
Like Uber, Lyft and other car service applications, customers request a car using the app and pay with a credit card, with SheTaxis taking a small fee of the customer’s payment. Technically, Nancy is in business for herself and not an employee of SheTaxis, but she chooses to work exclusively with the company because she says she likes having female passengers.
SheTaxis helps qualified applicants with the licensing process to become a driver and offers advice on obtaining a car, insurance and other essentials. An added perk; each driver is given a pink pashmina scarf to wear as a sort of uniform.
Mateo said there has been strong demand for the service but admits not all of the attention SheTaxis has received is the kind she was expecting.
Originally, the business plan was to make the service exclusively for women, but Mateo said she tweaked the model because some questioned whether the service was discriminatory. SheTaxis delayed its opening by about two months to rework the plan.
According to Mateo, men can request a ride through SheTaxis and they will be connected with a male driver. They can only request a female driver if they are in the company of another woman.
For civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, the legality of the service is questionable.
While women are clearly underrepresented in the population of taxi drivers, Siegel said two wrongs don’t make a right, “If you had White Rides, where white people would drive white people, people would be up in arms. Race and gender are immutable traits.”
Businesses that tailor services to women are by no means sparse, but there have been instances where practices that offer privileges to female customers have resulted in legal action. For example, bars that offer “Ladies Night” promotions that charge women a smaller cover fee to enter have been faced with legal action, but the practice persists.
No one has challenged the SheTaxis so far, but Siegel said if he is contacted with a complaint, his firm will give serious consideration to filing a claim against the company.
So far men have mostly steered clear of SheTaxi. The men who request cars are usually scheduling a ride for their daughters, wives or sisters, Mateo said..
Nightly Business Report conducted an informal street poll in New York City to find out how New Yorkers felt about the concept of the service. One woman remarked that in light of an Uber driver recently being charged with raping a customer, she thought SheTaxis was a great idea.
All of the 13 other randomly selected people who were asked about the service liked the concept.
Nancy said New Yorkers appreciate a woman’s touch, “They say you’re the first driver that is so friendly. I say: ‘You see? There you go.’ Woman to woman, that’s all it takes.”
Regardless of the debate, Mateo is planning for rigorous expansion. She hopes to have the Android version of the app ready by early February, at which time she’s hoping to begin offering the service outside the New York area.
“We’re having requests from California, from Chicago and other different cities. There’s a big need for women to join the market,” Mateo said.
Hopefully there are enough of those pink pashmina scarves to go around.
—Andy Rothman contributed to this report.