In New York, a female cab driver is an oddity: Only about 1.1 percent of the city’s taxi workforce is female, less than the oft-cited 2 percent national average.
Anecdotally, the figure seems to be similar in progressive San Francisco. The SFMTA couldn’t provide an exact number of female drivers in the city, but several fleet owners say the number is low.
Among San Francisco’s various car-hire startups, though, that figure may be shifting. Lyft has a 30 percent female workforce in this city (and 40 percent, in some other cities), while SideCar saw a spike in female applicants after unveiling a feature that allowed drivers to stick within certain circumscribed zones. (SideCar is still majority male.)
Aarjav Trivedi, the founder of a car-hire app called Summon (formerly InstantCab) says large numbers of women have signed up to drive for his company — a development he partly attributes to the company’s reliance on GPS tracking apps for “enhanced safety.” Also, he continues, most ride-share jobs are part-time, which makes them a little more inviting for a reluctant or diffident driver — or a woman who has to watch her kids half-time.
And it’s worth noting that a woman who drives one shift a month for one of these start-ups counts as part of the workforce.
With all that said, there still seems to be a stronger female presence in the start-ups than in cab companies. And to an outsider, it’s not immediately clear why the newer services might seem more hospitable to women.
In San Francisco, all cabs have cameras installed on their dashboards to keep tabs on the back seat, the front window, a GPS map, and the vehicle’s speed. That’s a safety feature not required for car-hire companies, even though the car-hires are generally perceived as safer.
Perhaps it all comes down to image. Taxis have been around for decades, and during that time, the female workforce wobbled, depending largely on crime. It seems that the travails of female drivers during the ’60s and ’70s may have sullied the taxi industry’s reputation, today.
“Men still predominate by a wide margin throughout the industry,” Charles Rathbone, general manager of Luxor cab, explains in an e-mail. Though Luxor has some women drivers, he says women generally prefer to work as call-takers, dispatchers, and cashiers.
Most app-based startups are still too young to have any kind of reputation whatsoever, though some have taken pains to emphasize innocence or femininity in their branding (not for nothing is the Lyft mustache pink). So it’s not surprising that they’re attracting women — even in the male-dominated start-up world.