The ride-sharing industry has been booming as of late, and while such services were only really restricted by location, a new restriction is poised to make an appearance: gender. Yes, that's right, there is an Uber competitor designed for women set to launch in Boston April 19.
The service, Chariot for Women, has an unlikely backstory. The founder of the company is a man - yes, a man - by the name of Michael Pelletz, who came upon the idea for the company after feeling threatened by a passenger. In fact, it's for this very reason that his wife Kelly - who is now Chariot for Women's president - decided not to drive for Uber, he said.
Of course, this concern is a valid one. Plenty of women reported rapes and assaults by Uber drivers over the years and, in a similar vein, many report feeling threatened. These fears turned out to not be unsubstantiated either - as of Friday, Uber agreed to pay at least $10 million to settle with California prosecutors for misleading passengers about the thoroughness of its background checks.
It was these safety concerns that Pelletz had in mind when he founded Chariot for Women. In an interview, he said the service will have several measures in place to ensure that both riders and drivers have the safest ride possible.
"The premise is the same as all the other ride-sharing services," Pelletz said. "There's a driver app and a client app, except that what makes us unique is our safety feature that other apps forgot to do." The apps in question give both the driver and the client a code after a ride request has been made. Upon arrival, the driver and passenger must make sure their codes match before the passenger is allowed entry in the vehicle.
Other safety measures are equally thorough. For example, not only does Pelletz use Safer Places, which is known for performing thorough background checks, but Chariot for Women also requires that all drivers pass Massachusetts' Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) check, the same background check used in daycare centers and schools.
It should be noted that it's not just women who are considered valid customers. Any child under the age of 13 or a transgender who identifies as a women can use the service as well.
A service like this is bound to come under extreme scrutiny, which it has. In this case, legality is a major concern. Civil rights lawyers allege that Chariot for Women's female-only policies would place the company directly in the crosshairs of gender discrimination lawsuits, which would be difficult to win if they're ever filed.
However, Pelletz noted he isn't worried about any legal challenges, saying, "We want to show there's inequality in safety in our industry. We hope to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to say that if there's safety involved, there's nothing wrong with providing a service for women."
Check out the Chariot for Women website for more info.