Confessions of a female Uber driver: women-only rideshare has many pluses

It’s Halloween 2014 and I’m parked outside of bars at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, fifteen minutes after last call waiting for my passenger to find me. A man in a tie-dyed shirt and a curly wig hops into the front passenger seat of my black Honda Fit. He’s dressed as a hippy, he tells me. His friend is still outside, yelling at someone I’m not sure he knows, wearing a white tank top with the word “lifeguard” on the front in black block letters. He’s a lifeguard, I’m told.

The hippy is pleased I am neither male nor old. He tells me that his friend’s yelling is OK, nothing I need to be upset about, they are both on the men’s lacrosse team at a local college. The lifeguard is the star player, he says reassuringly. The hippy will remind me of his team-mate’s “number one” status again when, three minutes into the ride, the lifeguard proceeds to scream at a group of women who this time I am sure he does not know. And once more when the lifeguard jumps out of the car to pee outside the door of One Financial Center. “Number one,” the hippy says again, calmly, when I voice my disgust.

If the new women-only rideshare service, Chariot for Women, launches as advertised, drivers will never have to interact with the men’s lacrosse team, as I did while driving for Uber and Lyft for about a year.

Chariot for Women, which plans to launch in Boston, will only work with female drivers and serve only women, people who identify as women and male children ages twelve and under in the company of women.

There are about a dozen different debates surrounding the ethics of the sharing economy, and more than a dozen different lawsuits involving Uber alone. Women-only ridesharing does not address all of these issues, but it does confront two legitimate and weighty concerns for both drivers and passengers: safety and harassment.

This service is tailored so passengers can enjoy their commutes testosterone free, with drivers who are less likely to hit on them and have undergone a thorough vetting process, according to Chariot for Women founder Michael Pelletz.

Drivers of this service will not need to perfect a stern but non-confrontational “don’t fuck with me” tone when passengers reach to touch their wrist.

My-boyfriend-is-a-possessive-mixed-martial-artist-who-does-not-allow-me-to-disclose-personal-information lies may even be immaterial.

That is, if Chariot for Women, ever comes to fruition.

Even before its launch, the new company has already raised controversy about whether hiring and providing services exclusively to women is even legal, though Pelletz maintains that it is. The company pushed back its launch date from last Thursday, to an indefinite “couple months” from now, says Pelletz. Pelletz says the cause for the delay is the deluge of applications and delays with the software.

He also adds that 80% of these wannabe drivers are women age 55-and-up who, “want to keep young girls safe”.

Keeping women safe is Pelletz’s self-proclaimed mission. On his website he says he was inspired by his wife, Kelly Pelletz, the president of the company, and by his daughters.

As a former Uber driver himself, he would watch college-aged women pour out of clubs, often getting into the wrong rideshare car. “Just one bad apple behind the wheel, and those women would not be safe at all,” he writes on his website. He imagines his own young daughters. “The thought of them doing this was like a knife to the chest.”

His concern is supported by past incidents. Numerous passengers have been assaulted in the Boston area, after allegedly getting into the wrong car, including two incidents which took place last month, according to the Boston Globe.

Meanwhile, an Uber driver in Michigan who allegedly murdered six people in February, while picking up passengers in between, has heightened scrutiny of rideshare apps across the board.

Pelletz says Chariot for Women drivers have thorough background checks, set up with help from former police officers, and will utilize facial recognition technology. Drivers and passengers will also have an individualized “safe word” which the passengers must confirm to initiate the ride.

Despite his best intentions, Pelletz is at risk of patronizing both his employees and customers. He cites Pretty Woman as another inspiration, and the relationship between the businessman and the down-on-her-luck hooker as formative of his protective disposition to members of the opposite sex.

Whether or not the slew of middle-aged women applying as drivers will feel as kindly to the young women passengers when they discreetly throw up down the side of their car door has yet to be determined.

Pelletz has not advertised the most satisfying part about this set up: the potential for great conversation.

Driving people from place to place, the backseat of a taxi, or rideshare car, often seamlessly turns into a confessional booth. The conversations I had with women were always refreshingly frank.

Sometimes the subject matter veered into more serious territories, like loneliness, in vitro fertilization and sexual assault. Most kept it light.

I became adept at reviewing the pros and cons of online dates. I pondered with my passenger as I pulled her up to meet a prospective suitor only to find he was wearing a particularly bold pair of velour pants. I attempted to interpret the Snapchats of an on-again-off-again romance, and suggested against making new plans with the man who showed up high on MDMA, ordered a dozen oysters and made my passenger pay.

For my own part, I entertain my female riders with tales of less peaceful commutes, like my misadventures with the men’s lacrosse team.

When I finally arrived at their dormitory, the hippy realized he was now in possession of my personal phone number. He was an economics major, he boasted, listing expensive steakhouses as he stumbled out of my car. “I’ll call you,” he said again, this time so the students outside his dormitory could hear. Miraculously, the lifeguard was already making out with a young woman as I drove off. I never heard from either one of them again.

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