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Ride-Hailing App Geared Toward Women Debuts In Boston

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So there's a ride-hailing company that's now up and running in Boston, and it is geared toward women. The company wants women to be less worried about sexual harassment when they are riding. Another goal is to open this industry to more women drivers. From member station WABE, Zeninjor Enwemeka reports.

ZENINJOR ENWEMEKA, BYLINE: About 20 women gather at a training session just north of Boston for the new ride-hailing company Safr, spelled S-A-F-R. Many of the women share stories about driving for other companies. Danielle Maree Langley tells about a night she picked up two men.

DANIELLE MAREE LANGLEY: One of them kept on really getting in my face, and he didn't understand - why don't you want to come home with me?

ENWEMEKA: Langley says she tried to stay calm and changed the subject. But the passenger just got more menacing.

LANGLEY: I mean, I was so scared, and these two men said they were firefighters. So I said if you're such great firefighters, then I will drop you off at the police station and the police can take you home.

(LAUGHTER)

ENWEMEKA: Many women in the group drive for other ride-hailing companies. They say this work allows them to make their own hours and earn extra money outside their other jobs. But many won't drive at odd times to avoid uncomfortable situations. Safr CEO Syed Gilani says his company wants to change that.

SYED GILANI: We want to make sure that women feel safe during any time of the day or night as a rider and as a driver. And in the end, they feel empowered and new and new women join the ride-sharing market.

ENWEMEKA: Safr works like other ride-hailing companies. There's an app to summon a ride, but then there are the safety features. The passenger is assigned a color - so is the driver - and the colors must be verified before a ride can start. This is to make sure drivers pick up the right passengers. If you do run into trouble, Safr has a feature that will dial 911, your emergency contacts or the company's call center.

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: You are on the best route despite usual traffic. You should reach your destination by 4:31 p.m.

ENWEMEKA: I tested out the app and caught a ride from Safr driver Tracey Ozel. She also drives for Uber and Lyft.

TRACEY OZEL: Lots of women ask me, what is it like to drive? And what they're really asking is, like, are you, like, afraid of picking up strangers in the car? That's what they're really trying to find out, and I'm like, I'm totally used to it now.

ENWEMEKA: But she says more of her passengers have expressed the desire for female drivers.

OZEL: It'll be more of a niche market, that's for sure, but there's definitely a market out there for it.

ENWEMEKA: Safr wanted to be exclusive to women, but then it would be vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits. So men can sign up to be drivers and passengers, too. CEO Syed Gilani says Safr wants to shift the imbalance of women in the industry, which right now is about 14 percent for Uber.

GILANI: Instead of 14 percent drivers in other ride-sharing as women, we want 99 percent drivers on our side as women.

ENWEMEKA: Gilani says safety is the company's priority. Safr conducts numerous background checks and meets face to face with every driver. Uber and Lyft say they also use their technology to ensure the safety of both passengers and drivers. Their new competitor, Safr, plans to expand beyond Boston to other cities and hopes to go global, too. For NPR News, I'm Zeninjor Enwemeka in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER FAI'S "TO THE GREEN TOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.