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A comedienne’s terrifying recent experience with a Lyft driver and a lawsuit against Uber have added new urgency to conversations about the safety of rideshare apps for women and families. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A comedienne’s terrifying recent experience with a Lyft driver and a lawsuit against Uber have added new urgency to conversations about the safety of rideshare apps for women and families. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s been an especially troubling week for those who rely upon the safety of rideshare apps.

First, Kansas City comedienne Anna Gillcrist shared a disquieting experience on Twitter this past Sunday. She says she was trying to make her way home from a bachelorette party the night before, when her driver repeatedly asked her whether or not she had a boyfriend. When she told him she did, the driver then asked if he was in town, repeating the question several times when she refused to answer.

The situation apparently escalated when they neared her destination. “He looks at me and asks ‘Is your boyfriend home?’ I immediately realized the doors were locked and I said ‘Please unlock the doors,’” she recalled. “He didn’t. So I pried the lock up, jumped out of the car, and ran to my apartment.”

[Related: Tragedy Inspired This Mom to Start a Travel Safety Nonprofit]

When she contacted Lyft, she says they offered her a $5 credit, an apology, and a promise that the driver would be reprimanded. (Lyft has not yet commented publicly on the matter.) Unsatisfied, Gillcrist took to the internet — within days, she says she learned that the driver had been fired, and tweeted that a formal call with Lyft’s management was in the works.

Meanwhile, Lyft’s main competitor, Uber, is facing its own backlash. Three women who say they were raped by men posing as drivers allege in a lawsuit that Uber was aware of predators’ practice of luring inebriated women into their cars, only to sexually assault them.

“The unwitting public, and in particular women looking for a safe ride home, have been lulled into believing that the Uber App summons a safe means of transportation,” the lawsuit, filed this week, states. “Instead, once the Uber app has been engaged, single female passengers leaving crowded nightclub, bar [or] restaurant locations become vulnerable to the fake Uber scheme.”

The lawsuit comes days after news broke regarding the murder of Samantha Josephson, a college student in South Carolina who mistook her assailant’s car for her driver’s. Uber said in a statement that it is working with law enforcement officers to make sure passengers get in the right car.

Former tech executive Sarah Schaer understands the need for reliable, safe drivers firsthand, as a woman and busy mother who once struggled to get her kids safely around. The success of her family-focused rideshare app, Kango, has required overcoming a major challenge — that now, you can’t grow a service responsible for transporting “the most precious cargo a family could have” without trust.

[Related: This Cafe Owner Created a Safe Haven for Her Community]

To foster trust Schaer makes sure she hires only the best of the best by putting every applicant through a rigorous, multi-step approval process. Extensive childcare experience, numerous background checks, fingerprint scans and more are required of every driver Kango hires. And once they’re brought on board, they undergo hours of driver and car seat safety training, and vehicles are fitted with tracking devices.

Other rideshare apps, often run by women who understand the need for safety firsthand, have emerged with similar vows to protect vulnerable communities of riders — Safr (formerly Chariot for Women), SheTaxis and DriveHer, to name a few. “I shouldn’t have to worry about my girls being afraid in a cab or having to stay on the phone to make sure they actually get home safely,” DriveHer founder Aisha Addo says on the company website. “It’s really important to have a safer option.”

But safe transport continues to be “a modern-day challenge for so many families” and women, Schaer says — and female tech founders like her want to be part of the solution.

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