RideAustin app provides the only female-driver option in the city.
Neda Hamid, a University of Texas student, used a ride-share service to go home after studying for a final exam. The male driver asked about her hair and the conversation quickly became uncomfortable for her.
“I’m wary of using ride-share apps, but there are times where I can’t help but use them, like if it’s late and I don’t feel safe walking home,” Hamid says.
It’s an uncomfortable experience women know all too well. And it’s a growing dilemma as ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft continue to grow in popularity. Some women are nervous to get into a car with a stranger but don’t want to risk walking home. RideAustin, a local nonprofit ride-share app, is combating this with its female-driver option.
After receiving requests for an option to select female drivers, RideAustin introduced the feature as a pilot in fall 2016, and because of the positive response, it has become available for all users who identify as female.
With stories of harassment and assault by Uber and Lyft drivers peppering the news, many women are scared to ride with male drivers. Kayla Morton, a support technician with RideAustin says there’s an increase in females using the feature after each ride-share incident in the news.
“Getting into a car with a stranger can be uncomfortable, but the additional safety feature of having a female driver allows women to feel safer day and night,” Morton says.
It all comes down to the idea that many women feel safer in the presence of other women.
“I haven’t had any negative experiences with female drivers,” Hamid says. “I just feel more comfortable when I have them as my drivers.”
Bobbi Kommineni, vice president of operations at RideAustin, says many women don’t know about the feature. Only 5 percent of the company’s rides are female-only.
“The awareness isn’t there,” Kommineni says. “People are used to opening ride-share [apps] and just request a ride. You have to activate [the]feature on [the]app itself.”
Regardless of the ride-sharing app, Kommineni and Morton believe it’s always good to err on the side of safety.
“Inform someone you trust,” Morton says. “When you request a ride, you get their info, so you’re able to alert somebody just in case.”
Kommineni says there’s always a risk of people pretending to be drivers.
“I always check my app to make sure the car and driver match what it says,” Kommineni notes.
For extra safety precautions, RideAustin is also the only ride-share app in Austin to fingerprint its drivers.
Not only is the female-driver feature unique to Austin, but popular ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft don’t offer it. Morton says those who aren’t from Austin are really interested in the feature.
“It’s awesome to be able to provide something like that for Austin locals and even those who are visiting,” Morton says. “It makes us stand out from the competition.”