New start-up rolls out nation’s first Woman-To-Woman ridesharing app in Toronto
by Mike Beggs
“A woman is entitled to travel in peace.”
That’s the basic premise behind DriveHer, Canada’s first Woman-To-Woman (W2W) ridesharing app, which was rolled out in Toronto on March 16 with a fleet of approximately 100 female drivers, and 1,000 customers.
Catching the wave of the massive #MeToo and Times Up movement, this, the city’s latest licensed Private Transportation Company (PTC) is designed to provide a safe transportation alternative for women, as well as an entrepreneurial opportunity in a heavily male-dominated industry (where women account for 60 percent of revenues, but just two percent of its drivers).
“DriveHer eliminates a lot of the discomfort women may feel using existing platforms, and provides drivers and passengers a sense of community unmatched by other apps,” says founder Aisha Addo.
“We always have to create that space for women. We need a service like this.”
This Ghananian native was inspired to launch a W2W service (already existent in cities like New York and London) about 1.5 years ago, after hearing stories from around the world about women being sexually harassed and assaulted in transportation vehicles, and from her own late night ride home which “turned south”, when the driver’s conversation took on unsettling sexual overtones.
“I said to myself, this is getting really awkward, and really weird,” she recalls. “I ended up calling up a friend on my cellphone.”
“There are so many women out there that feel this on a daily basis. I know a lot of young girls who feel they have to have a designated driver, to avoid taking these trips late at night.”
While certainly not wanting to typecast all male drivers, she says it’s about creating a comfort zone where women can feel relaxed, and chitchat with the female behind the wheel.
Also executive director of the not-for-profit organization Power 4 Girls, Addo intended to have this service operating last summer, but ran into some frustrating regulatory roadblocks.
“There were times I wanted to stop and say, ‘Forget this,’” she related at a downtown press conference. “Then a woman would message me, or call. I’m really happy to say our app launches today.”
She explains that Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards was reticent to issue DriveHer a PTC license, with fears the service could be deemed discriminatory against men. However human rights lawyer Saron Gebresellassi successfully intervened on her behalf.
“The MLS was saying, ‘We don’t know’… Is that insane or what?” Gebresellassi asks. “Here we are in the #MeToo era. What we had to go through. I thought I lived in a city that was more progressive.”
According to Addo, DriveHer has ridesharing coverage through NorthBridge Insurance, all of its drivers have undergone “rigorous” background checks, its prices will be competitive (with no surge pricing), and drivers will have ID stickers on the front and back of their cars.
The DriveHER app will be available on both Android and IOS platforms, and includes such features as Pre-Scheduled Rides, Safety Tips, and an Emergency button for passengers (providing real time information on where the driver is located).
“I think that is really important, because a lot of times women won’t report these incidents because of the time commitment, they’re ashamed, or they don’t know where to go,” she offers.
DriveHer will transport men who are traveling with a woman, at the driver’s discretion.
Addo hopes to gradually expand this service across Canada, and internationally. She says Montreal is the next city up, and that Ottawa and Halifax are already “buzzing” about it.
At the press conference, a woman named Rolacke enthused, “It’s conversation. It’s comfort. It’s peace of mind. I’m really excited to download it and try it out.”
But on the downtown streets, Mark Currie, married with two daughters, observed, “It’s sad we need something like that. But I can understand why (a woman) would feel that way.”
A young woman named Alex added, “I think it’s a good idea. I’ve been fine, but I’ve heard stories from my friends about riding in Ubers.”
However, Toronto’s licensed taxi operators question the need for such a service, given that they are trained professional drivers, their cabs are marked with a number, and have mandatory security cameras (unlike PTC’s). They stress that the city has already been flooded with an additional 60,000 Uber X cars, along with Lyft, and other smaller PTC’s over the past two years, undermining their incomes.
“How big does the City of Toronto think the financial support pie of consumers is?” asks long-time owner/operator Gerry Manley. “Or is it, as I suspect, an ever-growing licensing cash cow leading to this industry being self-regulating with virtually no City involvement other than taking in the money?”
But Mississauga plate owner Peter Pellier suggests, “The #MeToo campaign has changed the playing field. Many women will avail themselves of this service to ensure their safety, and comfort.”