Amidst concern about the security of ride-sharing services, a startup known as Chariot for Women is looking to offer rides only to women and children. But the idea, though well-intentioned, could run into some discrimination trouble.
Chariot, set to launch next week, will only employ women as drivers, while only women (and children under 13) can take rides. Before accepting any passenger requests, drivers must complete a thorough background check. A security question, generated randomly each day, will ensure their identity.
The app provides customers with a picture of their driver, car make, and license plate number; it also uses real-time GPS tracking and maps to let users know exactly when their Chariot arrives. At the start of their transaction, the driver and passenger will receive a "safe word" on their phone; if a driver can't confirm that word, the passenger knows not to get into the car.
The woman-focused start-up, however, is the brainchild of a man: Uber driver Michael Pelletz. A father to two daughters, the thought of them getting into the wrong rideshare car "was like a knife to the chest," according to the company's website.
"Just one bad apple behind the wheel, and those women would not be safe at all," it added. "Michael knew he had to come up with a better way to keep people safe. Especially women passengers and drivers."
Despite its clear enthusiasm for protecting women and a pledge to donate a percentage of passenger fares to female-focused nonprofits, Chariot raises legal questions about equal access. As the Washington Post points out, the service could be sued for discrimination.
In a "legal statement" emailed to the newspaper, Pelletz said his company believes that "giving women and their loved ones peace of mind is not only a public policy imperative but serves an essential social interest.
"Our service is intended to protect these fundamental liberties, and we look forward to ending the inequality of security that currently afflicts drivers and riders on the basis of gender," he continued.
Chariot for Women did not immediately respond to PCMag's request for comment.
Ahead of its April 19 launch, the program is exploring a name change; folks are encouraged to help create a new moniker via the company website or Facebook.