A new Boston-based ride-hailing service that aims to create a safe and secure community for female riders and drivers alike has gained an intern with Ellie Gozigian ’17, who has been volunteering at Safr as part of her Senior Spring Project.
The company prides itself on being by and for women, offering female riders and drivers in-app safety features to prevent assault and compensating female drivers with flexible work schedules and fairer pay, according to its website.
“That’s the whole goal of Safr,” said Ellie. “To provide women with a way to get to their destination safely.”
Ellie discovered the company through her mother, who is good friends with Rani Neutill, the community manager for Safr. For 12 hours a week, Ellie does public outreach and contacts Massachusetts corporations and colleges in an effort to form partnerships. She also looks to recruit new drivers for the company, which only has about 100 drivers thus far.
“I pretty much have to walk down the street and talk to random people to see if they’ll be a driver for Safr,” she said. “I’ve also gone into Starbucks and told employees there about the company to see if they’ll switch [jobs]. It’s definitely a lot harder than I thought.”
Ellie reported limited success in recruiting drivers to join the company, noting that she often tries to lead with Safr’s equal pay model when talking to women who make minimum wage in the service industry. Furthermore, because Safr does not have large-scale infrastructure to train drivers, said Ellie, it uses drivers to train applicants who have already had their background checks approved. Currently, Safr has about 40 daily riders, and hopes to increase its number of drivers to 1,000 by the end of the summer.
“Part of the company’s mission is to create a community,” Ellie said. “The drivers have meet-and-greets with each other, and I don’t think any other ride-sharing companies offer those kinds of opportunities.”
Additionally, unlike the larger and more powerful corporations Uber and Lyft, Safr is geared toward providing its services for women.
“At the crux of our model is an absolute foundation that we want women to feel safe and feel empowered,” Joanna Humphrey Flynn, Safr’s marketing head, told The Boston Globe in January.
Safr’s arrival comes only six months after Uber settled a lawsuit with two women who claimed that drivers working for the company sexually assaulted them in 2015. One of these women, who identified herself only as Jane Doe 1, was from Boston. Just last week, an Uber driver accused of sexually assaulting a female passenger while on the job in September was arraigned in Newton District Court on three counts of rape, CBS local news reported.
In an attempt to prevent sexual assault in ride-hailing situations, Safr provides both drivers and riders with the means to choose the gender of their counterpart and contact the company or 911 if they feel unsafe during an interaction. To guarantee that the right passenger has been picked up, the app also assigns a color to both rider and driver that both parties must verify before the ride begins.
Despite these measures, Safr’s mission to provide safe ride-hailing services for women has been criticized by the Boston legal community amid concerns that the company’s policy on drivers choosing the gender of their rider is discriminatory against male customers.
The company is not the first to face this kind of criticism: SheTaxis, a New York City-based transportation service with the same principles as Safr, was criticized by the city’s government in 2014 for its practice of refusing customers based on gender. Today, the app is no longer available for download.
Ellie said she finds the criticism against Safr unfair, since the company does allow male riders and drivers to sign up. So far, however, no men have applied to be drivers for the company.
“They’re not discriminating against men—men can use the app,” Ellie said. “It’s upsetting that someone would take offense to this because the truth of the matter is that Uber isn’t safe for everyone.”
Ellie has enjoyed her time with the company nevertheless and said she would love to drive for Safr if its age policy allowed. Currently, Safr requires drivers to be 21 or older. However, she still hopes to continue with Safr as an intern over the summer.
“Everyone who works there really believes in the mission,” Ellie said. “That’s the best thing about Safr.”
Q&A with Aileen, a Safr driver who also drives for Uber and Lyft
How do Uber, Lyft, and Safr compare?
They’re all the same, basically. You’re on call, by your phone, paid by mile and by distance. Safr just has a focus on women empowerment and safety— and giving a chance for women drivers to get out there. Uber and Lyft are great, but there’s not really a community. We’re not even their employees because we’re just independent contractors, so we’re just kind of there. I had lunch with the other Safr drivers, the heads of the company, and the head of PR recently [in a company-sponsored event]. Safr keeps trying to have their drivers come together and form a community. Some of the women who said that they were ready for Safr said they just didn’t feel comfortable driving for the other ones, so they were excited.
What do you make of Safr’s concept?
I love the focus on women’s safety and empowerment. I went to an all-girls school for seven years, to Dana Hall, so whenever I hear things about local support for women, or women-centered businesses, I think, “That’s awesome.” It’s nice to change it up and give women another choice, especially late at night, to help you be a little bit safer. It’s not that inherently Uber or Lyft do something that’s bad, or that everyone’s had bad experiences—it’s just sometimes people like to be creepy. “It’s like, I don’t want to feel icky today. I just want to be driven to my location like a normal passenger.” Apparently 10 to 15 percent of Uber and Lyft drivers are women, which is so low. A lot of times people get in my car and they say, “Oh my God, you’re a woman!” It’s like a rarity.
Who are your typical riders?
It’s been young women in their 20s, either students or young professionals, as of now. I drive in Boston, Cambridge, Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, Quincy… I go all over.
The Pros of Driving for Safr:
Safr’s trying to get people on the road, so for example, if I drive 5 p.m. until 7 p.m., I’m guaranteed a certain amount of money per hour whether or not I make that in rides. I also get a way larger cut than I do from Uber and Lyft, so that’s great.
Also, Safr is the only service that lets you see where you are going. The other ones you don’t know where you’re going until someone gets in the car… On the driver end, it’s like, “I could be driving a two-minute drive or a 50-minute one—I don’t know!”