A lot of suggestions have been put forward to address the growing cases of sexual assault on women using taxis. There is however one idea that everybody seems aware of but has never thought of implementing: a service exclusively for women.
Michael Pelletz, a former Uber driver, intends to roll out an Uber-style taxi company called Chariot for Women that will only be operated by female drivers and that will cater to female passengers only. So far, 1,000 drivers have already registered and are ready to begin work as the company plans to start operating in late April in Boston.
Chariot for Women: Females in, Males Out
The only males that will be accepted in these taxis are children under the age of 13. Drivers will only allow adult passengers in once they have verified that the passengers are females. Transgender women will also be allowed to use this service.
To qualify as a Chariot for Women driver, one must undergo strict background checks. Just like Uber, the company also collects finger prints of its drivers and will use these to carry out follow ups on police records.
To prevent impersonation, the Chariot for Women app has a name confirmation feature which sends the driver’s name to the passenger. The passenger can then ask the driver her name to confirm that it matches the name they received on the app. In addition, drivers have to confirm their identity every morning before starting work.
Disturbing Trend of Sexual Assaults
While the overall number of rape cases have declined over the last decade, the rising trend of assaults in cities is disturbing. In the city of New York, for instance, the number of reported cases of rape rose by six percent to 1,439 between 2014 and 2015. Scores of other forms of sexual abuses were also reported in the same period.
A good share of these incidents involved taxis, and while Uber receives most of the blame, yellow taxi drivers were involved as well. It is not clear whether the increased reports are as a result of more women coming out to report sexual abuse or if the abuse rates have actually increased. Experts believe that both factors may be contributing to the rising numbers.
Pelletz believes that Chariot for Women will provide women with safer traveling environments, devoid of the sexual abuses that have raised concerns lately. Just to show how committed he is to women providing service to women, Pelletz himself will not be running the company. Instead, he will leave all management operations to his wife.
Chariot for Women to Face Discrimination Suits
The move is likely to upset a section of the public and might also see a lot of suits filed against the company. But the company’s lawyers say they are ready to defend against such legal action.
One area of concern is that Chariot for Women might be contravening Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination law, which gives both men and women the right to be in a public place and equal access to employment opportunities.
The company, however, insists that the same law excludes women or men from certain places like washrooms and in occupations such as in prisons. Its lawyers argue that even taxis can meet the criteria required for a place to be labeled as sensitive and therefore appropriate for gender exclusion.
Victim Blaming or Sensible Protection?
Far from the legal point of view, other people have pointed out that encouraging women to keep away from the male population is giving impetus to the victim blaming culture. In other words, it is like telling women that they face sexual abuse because they expose themselves to men.
From this perspective, such a move is dangerous as it belittles women and gives more power over social space to men. It is almost the same line of proposal from the New York City Police Commissioner, William Bratton, that caused public uproar recently. Bratton suggested that women should “buddy up” when using taxis to protect themselves.
The general agreement among civil rights activists is that change should come from within the men who perceive women as objects, not women. However, this is not as easy as it sounds and might take years to achieve. Meanwhile, we may just have to wait to see if Pelletz’s company will survive the storm or not.