Jun 09, 2017
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table,” Shirley Chisholm once said, “bring a folding chair.” The current era of feminism is abundant with folding chairs—take, for example, the slightly trendy but effective pro-women networking space The Wing in New York City, or the magnanimous Women’s March on Washington. One folding chair taking back space with women at the core of is Safr, a ride-share service almost identical to Uber and Lyft—only with much fewer men.
Safr’s drivers are women, and so are most of their customers. And while Uber and Lyft remain the top choices for a pre-paid ride, those rides too often come at a cost to the women using the apps. Uber, especially, has been marred by confirmed news reports of women having endured sexual harassment and assault from male drivers. The goal of Safr is bigger than simply getting women from place to place—instead, it’s about keeping them safe to and from the grocery store, downtown and the club. The hope is that women using Safr will find that it offers them an experience lacking in unwanted remarks—and worse—within the sedans that pick them up and drop them off.
This is girl power—on the go.
“Empowering women is the mission,”Joanna Humphrey Flynn, Safr’s Marketing & PR Manager, told Ms. “[To] really create an environment where the drivers are also at an advantage, similar to our customers. This is their space in the game.”
Safr officially opened for service in Boston on March 1, where it is based. Last year, it was still called Chariot, a name that evoked a regal nature—but not a visionary feminism. The name changed to SafeHer and eventually became Safr. The app is now available for iPhone and Android, and there are plans to branch out to other American cities in the near future.
“I like the idea of a ride-share service that’s for women. It’s safer for the driver and also safer for the passenger,” a Safr driver who has also driven for Lyft and Uber told Ms. “I have on occasion encountered a woman passenger who was really pleasantly surprised to have a woman driver. And, especially driving for Lyft, I have heard a number of women passengers that have told me horror stories about Uber drivers they dealt with. But these were always women passengers and the drivers were always male, and they just had awful experiences. One asked to be dropped off in the middle of a highway because she was so creeped out by her driver. Hopefully, it’ll be safer for me as well as a [woman] driver.”
Another Safr driver who spoke to Ms. echoed her. “I’ve driven for Uber and have had several female passengers say they had incidents with male drivers that made them really uncomfortable,” she said, “and they actually liked the idea when I told them about Safr. I myself have had a couple of incidents [with male passengers] in which I threatened to put somebody out the car, whether being a drunk or aggressive.”
Safr arrives at a critical time and joins the cabal of unique, women-only ride shares in America. See Jane Go is regularly referenced as a harbinger of sorts, though it only launched last year. Jane is still on the road, but accusations and lawsuits of sexism became such a scourge for New York City’s SheRides that they nearly caused the company to cease—as thousands of dollars were spent on legal fees.
Early on, that was a major point of curiosity for the media towards Safr: What about the men? Where do they stand on women-only ride-shares?
At Safr’s second Meet and Greet this year, in a sleepy part of North Cambridge, Mass. at the local Summer Shack, men were a part of the conversation—but not in how they could be more included in the industry. Women make up only 14 percent of Uber drivers—and because they often work part-time hours, they earn 34 percent percent less than men. Instead, challenging the great auspice of an uplifting chi-chi over Mediterranean-spiced chicken wings, women gathered there tried to figure out why male drivers treated women so poorly while driving them to their destinations. Testimonials abounded.
Charlie, a proud member of the Safr in-house geek squad, was asked at the event about what he’d gained so far from working within a very pro-women establishment. His greatest soundbite came right at the beginning: “It’s taught me how to listen.”
Men—as passengers and drivers—aren’t seen by the Safr team as the enemy, but as let-downs. Ostensibly, the men did not acknowledge or care about what had transpired in those Uber episodes, leaving women to feel extremely unsafe.
“Thousands of women have found themselves in uncomfortable and dangerous situations with unfamiliar drivers who know where they live or work,” Humphrey Flynn said. “Countless other women have passed on the opportunity to earn money as drivers because of personal safety concerns.” Safr deliberately intervenes. Drivers undergo background checks beyond industry standards. If they so choose, drivers can opt to only pick up female passengers.
“We are ready,” Humphrey Flynn added, “to disrupt the current system in support of the sisterhood.”
By night’s end, the two large tables occupied by the Safr team were displays of intrinsic women bonding. A distinguishable bunch that includes American-born and immigrants, the women on board are anything but inert. In passing and in conversation, I can confirm the felicity they’ve gained in writing the next chapter of their own herstories as Safr drivers.
On the platform walls of Boston’s Park Street, television screens run ads on the Red Line. It is there that Safr broadcasts their service in hot pink and turquoise with a fitting phrase: “One giant leap for womankind.”
Safr may seem like a gambit, maybe even the most cheerful version of gallantry, to anybody that depends on public transportation or hears of it by ear shot. Possibly, all great missions are at first a gambit. But reclamation is the goal here. Frankly, women want to see women drivers. Harassment should not be normalized.
For once, they won’t have to pack a folding chair underneath their arm. There will be plenty on deck waiting for them to join this movement.