New York City

App helps NYC women find taxis driven by women

September 15, 2014 By Deepti Hajela Associated Press
A new app will help find women taxi drivers in NYC. Photo courtesy of NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission
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Sometimes a woman can be hard to find — if you’re looking for one behind the wheel of a taxi in New York City.

Less than 3 percent of the city’s 115,000 licensed taxi, livery and limousine drivers are women, and that can be a problem for women who are reluctant to get into a cab alone with a male driver because of safety concerns or religious and social mores.

A new app called SheTaxi locates taxis with a woman behind the wheel in New York City, Westchester County and Long Island. It launched Monday and will go live on Tuesday.

The drivers wear pink scarves to be easily identified.

“Why don’t we have female drivers exclusively for female riders? It would be nice to have that choice,” the app’s creator, Stella Mateo, told The Associated Press before the official launch. Her husband, Fernando Mateo, is founder of the industry group New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers.

Bronya Shaffer, 66, of Brooklyn, said the app is a good idea and she would encourage her daughters to use it. She likened it to being able to go to female doctors or attorneys.

“It’s having one more opportunity in our whole world, in all of our interactions everywhere, to know that I can choose to have a woman if I want,” she said. “It’s kind of nice.”

SheTaxi, called SheRides in New York City, has been two years in the making. It will be available for the iPhone initially, and an Android version is in the works. There also are plans to expand to other cities.

Passengers pay their fare through the app using a credit or debit card. The drivers are independent contractors, and 100 women have signed up as drivers so far, Mateo said at a news conference Monday.

Taxi and Limousine Commission regulations say for-hire car services are prohibited from refusing customers. Mateo said female drivers registered with her app are free to pick up anyone they want; the app merely helps women who are looking for female drivers.

Such requests are common among some religious communities, like among some Orthodox Jews and conservative Muslims, where social and cultural mores emphasize men and women staying in separate spheres.

“It’s sometimes a little difficult to keep up with the demands,” said Richard Tinel, assistant administrator atBrooklyn Radio Dispatch, which has about 10 women driving. “We lose a lot of calls because we don’t have enough.”

Mateo also hopes the app will spur more women to join the profession.

“We’re not looking to take over the industry, we’re just looking to raise the number,” Mateo said.

Dinora Cruz, 64, of East Meadow on Long Island, said the app made her decide to get back to driving after stopping about a year ago. She said she had some safety concerns and was almost robbed by a man once. She said focusing on women passengers makes her more comfortable.

“I like the idea,” she said. “It feels safe.”

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