In the coming months, a ride-hailing app called Chariot for Women will be launched that is designed to address some women’s fears of riding in a car alone with an unknown man. The company will hire only female drivers and only serve women or boys under the age of 13. It was created by Michael Pelletz, a former Uber driver concerned with the potentially dangerous situations women could be put in when both using and driving for a ride-hailing app.
If this app was available in Austin, I would unquestionably use it when leaving a friend’s apartment by myself at 2 a.m. It has the potential to help secure women’s safety, something Uber and Lyft have failed to do. While Pelletz should be applauded for taking women’s safety into consideration, developing a single app cannot replace long term goals of eradicating sexual assault and violence against women. Rather, we need to continue dialogue about these issues and include men and boys in the solutions as well.
Between April and August 2015, there were seven reported cases of sexual assault by an Uber or Lyft driver in Austin alone, not necessarily a comforting statistic. This data validates the creation and use of an app like Chariot. At the same time, the app proves the necessity of a drastic cultural change in today’s world pertaining to how we talk about women’s safety.
As Rachana Jadala, a business honors freshman and member of the UT Feminist Action Project, said, this conversation needs to be more about empowering women to protect themselves.
“In terms of how we discuss women’s safety, the discourse tends to circle around the idea that women must be protected, and we as a society should protect them — when I think the better and less patronizing option is to give women tools to protect themselves,” Jadala said.
These stories of sexual assault deserve the utmost attention. Perhaps women would feel safer if Uber and Lyft required more comprehensive background checks on their drivers, which is currently the subject of a contentious fight here in Austin. Whatever the tactical and currently unknown solution is, it is disappointing that women are targeted to the point of feeling uncomfortable when hailing a ride. However, Pelletz’s idea is crucial to protecting women, even if only temporarily.
As a society, we need a cultural change, and it needs to start with the way people talk about sexual assault. We need to include boys in the conversation and not simply make it a gender-specific problem. This is not a “women’s issue,” it is a societal issue. We cannot rely on an app to protect women; we need to be able to rely on the general population. It is great that Pelletz recognizes the inherent dangers of being a woman; however, it is crucial that society reaches a point where men are no longer congratulated for protecting women.
Vernon is a PACE freshman from the Woodlands. Follow her on Twitter @_emilyvernon_.