Entertainment And News

Why Lyft's New Safety Incentive For Women And Nonbinary Drivers Is Both Good And Bad

Photo: BublikHaus / Shutterstock
A woman is in the back of a car at night.

A woman's experience using a rideshare service like Lyft or Uber is vastly different than a man's.

A 2020 survey from Rideshare Sexual Assault Lawyers found that 54% of women are concerned about "drivers hitting on them or getting too personal." And over one-third of responders were concerned about "inappropriate sexual behavior by drivers."

Recently, Lyft has introduced a new feature called Women+ Connect, which allows women and nonbinary drivers to match with other women or nonbinary riders. This move comes as not only an attempt to enhance safety for riders and drivers, but to increase the number of female and nonbinary drivers on the platform.

However, this proactive move may actually be covering up a larger problem.

Lyft's new safety incentive for women and nonbinary drivers seems like a positive corporate decision.

Launching in select cities, including San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Phoenix, and Chicago, Lyft's new option can be activated within the app and prioritizes matching female or nonbinary drivers with similar passengers.

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Since women and nonbinary employees make up just 23% of the drivers on the platform, it seems like a good business decision from a safety perspective and for corporate growth and diversity.

"This highly requested feature offers more control over the driving experience for women and nonbinary people, allowing them to feel that much more confident. And with fewer barriers to driving, more women can access flexible earning opportunities," Lyft said in a statement.

Dig deeper, however, and you'll find that the rideshare giant has been accused of neglecting passenger and driver protection from physical and sexual assault in multiple lawsuits over recent years.

Last September alone saw 17 lawsuits launched against Lyft by users alleging negligence towards safety measures. Several female passengers also claimed that Lyft had ignored reports of assaults by predatory drivers for years.

In light of these accusations, Lyft implemented additional safety features such as an emergency call button on its app, fresh training for its drivers, and a "smart trip check-in" to monitor unexpected delays during trips.

But that doesn't excuse Lyft for concealing safety issues prior to its IPO in 2019.

Lyft paid out a $25 million settlement in June 2022 concerning a class-action lawsuit launched by shareholders — not victims.

The company's community safety report for 2021 revealed over 4,000 assaults during Lyft rides between 2017 and 2019.

Among these were 320 attempts at non-consensual sexual penetration and 360 actual instances. There were also 10 fatal assaults recorded within this period involving individuals using the platform.

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These figures are undeniably alarming. On the other hand, Lyft suggests they represent only a fraction of instances when considering the millions of rides facilitated annually.

But even a small percentage is way too much to sweep under the carpet. And Lyft isn't the only company to have this issue. Since 2018, multiple lawsuits have been launched against competitor Uber over their failure to protect passengers from sexual assault.

So, what can women and nonbinary riders and drivers do to stay as safe as possible?

A New York Times article from 2019 suggests choosing a safe pickup and dropoff location, confirming that the car is correct via the license plate and car model, and always informing a trusted friend or family member where you are and where you're going. Tracking apps, like Find My Friends and Life 360, are helpful tools and proactive safety measures as well.

Sadly, however, the onus falls on potential victims to protect themselves and illustrates a systemic societal problem — women and members of the LGBTQ+ community are at greater risk when interacting with the public, and safety and punitive measures can only go so far.

Jay Brown, the chief of staff of the Human Rights Campaign, told NPR that this inclusive feature is coming "at a time when so many companies are shying away from explicit inclusion of transgender and nonbinary people," explaining, "When rideshare is better for these folks, it's better for everyone, and we at HRC stand behind that."

Hopefully, Lyft's new Women+ Connect and other initiatives like this are a step in the right direction.

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Ethan Cotler is a writer and frequent contributor to YourTango living in Boston. His writing covers entertainment, news, and human interest stories.