Dozens of female cab drivers in New York City donned pink scarves and cheered as they lined City Hall's steps Monday morning to help announce the launch of SheRides, a women-only car service that will connect female riders and drivers through an app.
The service was conceived by Stella Mateo, an entrepreneur who is married to Fernando Mateo, founder of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers.
"This ride matching service intends to empower women to take the wheel," said Mateo, adding the service is also for women who might not be comfortable riding with male drivers.
Less than 3 percent of taxi and livery drivers in New York City are women, and women riders make up some 60 percent of those hailing a cab or requesting a car in the city, said Tamika Mallory, SheRides spokeswoman and civil rights activist.
"That's a major disparity," Mallory said, adding the company will allow women to become their own bosses, keep the money they earn and not face a pay gap that women in other industries face.
The app, originally set to launch this week, has been pushed back due to high demand, Mallory said. Mallory said the company planned to start with 50 drivers, but after testing out the app last week, found they would need at least 500 drivers to meet demand. The number of women drivers on board has risen from 50 to 100 in the last week, and the app will launch when 500 drivers are ready. No date has been set.
Until then, SheRides' Long Island City will be open for women interested in driving for the service, or learning how to get their livery license.
"This is an opportunity to make money and also have my religious beliefs," said Ahlam Jaoui, 30, of Brooklyn.
Jaoui said she was attracted to SheRides because of the company's message of women empowerment, and said the service will open up job opportunities for Muslim women like herself, as well as other religions and customs that keep men and women separate.
"Ihave a lot of family members that are (male) drivers, but (they) wouldn’t feel comfortable with me driving other men," Jaoui said. "Now, they support me."
Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State NAACP, said the new service isn't about "discrimination," but "inclusion" of women in a male-dominated field. Civil rights lawyer Andrew G. Celli, Jr., who is representing the company, said that even though men cannot request a car, he doesn't anticipate any legal issues pertaining to discrimination.
SheRides is a livery business, and the service will not be used with yellow and green city taxis, Mallory said, adding about 15-20 livery services have agreed to partner with the app. Mallory declined to name the companies.
"Let's see what happens; I hope it works," said Iris Cortes, 52, from the Bronx. Cortes, who has been driving cars for 10 years, said she believes she'll be safer taking on only women passengers. Cortes said she made the switch to driving from working as a store manager, because she wanted more flexible hours.
Sheridesnyc.com launches on Tuesday. The office is located at 36-31 10th Street in Long Island City, and can be reached by phone at (718) 391-0199.