It’s common in Canada for people to order Uber rides for friends on their own accounts. But they can’t control the behaviour of the person they ordered a ride for.
This practice can put Uber drivers in uncomfortable positions, because there is no way for them to truly know who the passenger is.
As a result, some women, like former Uber driver Elizabeth Organn, are repelled from this line of work due to fears for their safety.
“Uber technically tries to keep people safe by tracking rides,” Organn said. “But it still doesn’t feel safe when you have to pick up a group of drunk men at midnight.”
Organn is referring to the fact that one of Uber’s primary safety measures is that the movements of both rider and passenger are tracked at all times. This doesn’t protect people from immediate harm, however, according to Uber, “if you call 911 from the Uber app, the app displays your live location and trip details that can be shared with dispatchers” with speed and accuracy.
Uber has community guidelines which, according to a spokesperson, if violated may result in “riders or drivers losing access to the Uber platform.” But, a Guardian article reported that when an incident occurs, many find it difficult to get in touch with Uber. Some women have reported waiting days for a response while others received no assistance at all, the story said.
In an effort to increase the safety of drivers, Uber has a rating system for passengers, but that also has its flaws.
“There is no way to vet the customer,” Organn said. “You’d just have to hope for the best.”
It’s more common to encounter a female bus driver than a female Uber driver. Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) claims to be on track to meet their target of 40 per cent of 2021 hires being female. The TTC says it has made efforts to eliminate biases that prevented women from employment; Previously, it had required applicants to show proof of work in the previous year before they can be considered for driver positions, which disqualified women who were on parental leave from the conversation.
Although there are no overt biases that prevent women from driving for Uber, they are still underrepresented on the ride-sharing platform.
In an attempt to balance the ratio of male to female drivers, Uber has introduced a feature in some countries which gives drivers the ability to choose a gender preference for passengers. Female passengers can in turn choose to be picked up by female drivers.
The company launched the pilot of the women-only feature in Saudi Arabia in 2018 after the government lifted the ban on female drivers, according to an Uber spokesperson.
“We continue to evaluate the results of this pilot as it expands which will guide future expansion plans,” the spokesperson said.
Uber has tested this feature in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, but there are no immediate plans to introduce it elsewhere, the spokesperson said.
The risks to women’s safety has led to the creation of some female-only transportation apps. Apps created specifically for women might be one way to put potential female drivers’ minds at ease, however, one expert believes the path to a solution begins with having more women playing essential roles in Uber’s boardrooms.
A 2021 Uber People and Culture report revealed 33.6 per cent of the company’s leadership is female, with 18 per cent female leadership in tech.
“We don’t have women in leadership thinking about things that will serve a female clientele and make them safer and more economically productive,” Dr. Josipa Petrunic said.
Petrunic is the CEO of the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC), an organization which prides itself on designing and launching technology that advances zero-carbon mobility and transportation solutions across Canada.
“They’re just now addressing these issues because women came forward,” Petrunic said. “The change wasn’t organic, because you didn’t have women at the table.”