Positioning itself as a female-friendly alternative to Uber, Safr, a new Boston ride-hailing service that launched last month, faces an uphill climb to take market share from an industry leader. But with Uber’s seemingly unending stream of bad news this year, and a new report revealing that thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers in Massachusetts have failed the state’s new background checks, time seems ripe for a safety-conscious ridesharing service.
“There is obviously a need for another option for women in ridesharing,” says Joanna Humphrey Flynn, a PR and marketing manager for Safr. “The current environment doesn’t really allow women to fully participate. Safety concerns create roadblocks, and make it harder for women to ride and drive at night.”
Safr seeks to stand apart by offering a safer ride via a number of safety features and better driver training and recruitment processes. Riders can choose which gender they feel most comfortable riding with via the app—drivers have the same same gender preference option—and can also take advantage of a number of built-in safety features, including a feature that can call 911, send a text to a pre-assigned contact, or dial Safr’s 24-hour command center. A color-matching system, which sends riders and drivers a color-coded message during pickups, also helps ensure passengers get into the correct vehicle.
Safr says that drivers for the service, which are currently all women, go through a more extensive recruitment, vetting, and training process than competitors. New drivers have a “deeper on-boarding process,” including an extensive background check, an in-person meeting, and an hour-long driving session with Safr staff. Recruits are also assigned a more experienced mentor and undergo safety training before hitting the road.
Humphrey Flynn said that the vetting process and gender preference option for drivers will get more women in the driver’s seat and help them make more money. According to a survey conducted last year by SherpaShare, a support platform for ride-hailing drivers, women drivers make 34 percent less in income per month than males, though much of that is due to the fact that more women are part-time drivers. In addition, women make up a small percentage of the ride-hailing workforce; 14 percent of Uber, according to a 2015 company report, and about 20 percent of Lyft drivers, based on a recent survey. Humphrey Flynn said safety concerns, which keep female drivers from working the more lucrative late-night shifts, are a big reason for the pay discrepancy.
Safr’s more secure ride comes at a slight premium. According to Humphrey Flynn, an average ride costs about 10 percent more than UberX (that comes out to about $1 more for an average $12 fare). The service says that it also pays its workforce more. The first 1,000 drivers who sign up will have a higher guaranteed commission rate, taking home 90 percent of each fare. After that, additional drivers will take 80 to 85 percent of each ride.
The startup grew out of a business concept called Chariot for Women, initially developed by a former Boston-area Uber driver named Michael Pelletz. After dropping off an erratic male passenger, he wondered how he would handle the situation if he were a woman. He then attempted to launch his own company in 2016, but his initial concept was stymied by anti-discrimination issues (some Safr drivers will pick up male passengers, and men are welcome to download the app or apply to be drivers, though Humphrey Flynn admitted it may be harder for men to hail a ride late at night). Last fall, the company was sold to new investors, and Pelletz, who isn’t involved in day-to-day operations anymore, was replaced with new CEO Syed Gilani. After a test run earlier this year, the service officially launched in March.
Safr isn’t the first such startup to gear their service toward women. In 2014, New York-based SheTaxis, also known as SheRiders, attempted to launch, but faced gender discrimination issues and has since folded. See Jane Go, based in Orange County, California, and conceived of by a father-daughter team worried about rider safety, began operating last September. Chief executive William Jordan told the Boston Globe that the response has “exceeded our expectations,” though he didn’t release any ridership figures.
After a month of service, Safr has posted significant growth, says Humphrey Flynn, with more than 100 drivers and roughly 1,000 drivers in the pipeline waiting to pass security checks (ridership figures weren’t available). The startups plans to expand— Humphrey Flynn says the company is looking at expansion in the U.S. to places such as California or D.C.—but is currently focused on getting things right in Boston. She also mentioned additional services, including a service that would help provide children with safe rides to and from school or other events, as another expansion of Safr that would empower women.
“Part of empowering women is empowering them at home and in the marketplace,” she says.