Forget the pumpkin, your chariot is waiting
Elisabeth Smith | Asst. News Editor
Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, oh my! If there wasn’t already enough ridesharing apps, University of San Diego students now have another choice to make their commute to Mission Beach, but there’s a catch: only female students can use it.
Launching nationally in the fall, Chariot for Women plans to join the long list of ridesharing services, but is taking a new approach to the business model. The company’s mission is to provide safe rides to women and children.
Michael Pelletz, the founder of Chariot for Women, started the company after driving for Uber. Pelletz had the idea to start the company in February 2016 after giving a ride to an incoherent male passenger.
“After the gentleman got into my car, I knew he was very high and he kept passing out in the back seat,” Pelletz said. “I eventually pulled over to the cops [that I saw on the side of the road] and after, all I could think about was how scared I would be if I was a woman.”
Thus came Chariot for Women, which emphasizes safety of both the drivers and the passengers. Specific safety precautions include a random safe word given to the passenger and driver to ensure no passenger takes the wrong ride, running driver background checks through the Safer Places Inc. company, and not allowing men to drive or ride in Chariot for Women vehicles.
“All those incidents [involving women] came to my head when I started the company nine weeks ago, and I thought that I need to do something much safer,” Pelletz said.
The company planned to launch April 19 only in Mass., but Pelletz said that after over 8000 women signed up to drive, they decided to postpone the launch to allow the technology to support the large network.
Junior Lexie Fahey frequently uses ride-sharing services and is looking forward to the launch of Chariot for Women because riding with a woman makes her feel safer in some circumstances.
“I use Uber around four times a week because I work downtown and it’s actually cheaper than parking down there,” Fahey said. “Although my experiences with Uber have been mostly good, at times I wish it was a female driving when I’m in the car alone at 1 a.m. I think it would just feel safer with women drivers, especially late at night and when I’m alone.”
While this new ridesharing option may be enticing to college-aged women, it may not be legal. According to a Boston Globe article, legal experts believe the company may violate Massachusetts’, the company’s home state, anti-discrimination laws by purposely not hiring men.
Pelletz denied that this will be an issue for Chariot for Women.
“I’m not a lawyer but I assembled a great legal team,” Pelletz said. “Before they would sign on they looked into [the civil rights issue] and they all agree there’s nothing wrong. If and when we get challenged we look forward to showing the courts the inequality and exposing the sexual assault.”
USD Law professor Miranda McGowan is skeptical that the company can legally only hire women. McGowan teaches and writes in the areas of employment discrimination, constitutional law, and race and gender identity.
“There are two ways that the company could run into legal problems,” McGowan said. “From hiring on the basis of sex and restricting the consumers to women.”
McGowan explained that employing drivers based on gender violates Title VII. Title VII is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. It generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments, according to the American Association of University Women.
“You’re permitted to use gender as a basis for hiring only if you can prove it’s the essence of the business and the essence of the job,” McGowan said. “Then you have to demonstrate the link between the two and how sex relates to that.”
Creating this link can be nearly impossible for employers, and courts generally do not allow gender biased hiring unless the employees are in intimate contact with customers, such as female prison guards who work in prisions with female inmates.
“There are sex-neutral ways to address these issues,” McGowan said. “[Implementing] extremely stringent background checks and using safe words with companies like Uber would be a better solution than starting a new company.”
McGowan said that courts would most likely not allow this kind of gender discrimination if other rideshare companies do not try the stricter safety ideas first, and prove that those alone do not improve safety.
Until the fall, female students can still rely on established ridesharing apps such as Uber and Lyft, and possibly start using Chariot for Women when the new school year rolls around.