By Natalie Lung | Bloomberg
Lyft Inc. is launching a feature that will try to prioritize matches between women and non-binary riders and drivers in response to demand for increased safety protections for its users.
Drivers and riders who indicate their gender preference as women or non-binary in the app, or those with a user name commonly identifiable as a woman’s name, will be given access to opt in to the feature called “Women+ Connect.” The tool will increase the chances of matching women and non binary riders with similar gender-identified drivers.
Women make up only 23% of Lyft drivers, but account for nearly half of its riders, according to the company, which hopes to attract more women drivers with the new feature. Those numbers mean a preferred match isn’t guaranteed, so women riders, for example, can still be offered a male driver if no Women+ users are available nearby. Users can choose to opt out of the feature at any time.
Lyft and rival Uber Technologies Inc. are being pushed by investors and users to increase safety protections. San Francisco-based Lyft recorded more than 4,000 claims of sexual assault from 2017 to 2019, the company said in its first safety report released in 2021. The company has since faced related lawsuits from drivers and riders, including one that alleges its classification of drivers as independent contractors lets the ride-hailing company evade liability for sexual assault.
Lyft had been urged by a shareholder group to publish an annual report on driver safety and establish a process in which drivers feel they can turn down unsafe rides, although that demand wasn’t gender-focused.
“Women drivers like the flexibility that (Lyft) offers for earnings, but there are times, you know, late at night, or Saturday night when things get a little rowdy, that they think to themselves gosh, I just don’t always feel comfortable,” Chief Executive Officer David Risher said.
The Women+ Connect feature will be rolled out in Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco and Phoenix because there are favorable ratios of women drivers to women riders in those cities and gender information is available on those states’ driver’s licenses, according to Audrey Liu, Lyft’s head of design. Lyft will decide whether to expand the feature to other areas based on early customer response, but Risher said he hopes it will be available in all major geographies in the US by the end of the year.
Uber has a similar feature called “Women Rider Preference,” which isn’t available in the US and is offered only for women drivers to indicate their preference. It first launched in Saudi Arabia in 2019 and is now available in 22 other markets, including Canada and Australia.
There are standalone apps and services in the US and overseas that offer women’s only ride-sharing, although none has established a presence comparable to Uber or Lyft.
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