And folks say we’re exaggerating the New World Order. Welcome to SheTaxis, New York City taxis exclusively for women. Read it and weep. Better yet, read it with the genders reversed. That’d make front page headlines.
NEW YORK — New Yorkers can already choose from yellow taxis, green cabs or black livery cars. They can tap a smartphone app for a ride, or simply stick out an arm. They can pay with cash or credit.
Now there is one more option: a female driver.
A new livery service starting Sept. 16 in New York City, Westchester County and Long Island will offer female drivers exclusively, for female riders, according to its founder. It will take requests for rides through an app, and dispatch drivers sporting hot pink pashmina scarves.
The service will be called SheTaxis — SheRides in New York City because of regulations barring it from using “taxi” in its name — and aims to serve women who may feel uncomfortable being driven by men, or who simply prefer the company of other women. The app will ask potential riders if there is a woman in their party. If not, they will be automatically redirected to other car services.
The app will be available only through Apple, starting Sept. 16 and will eventually be made available for Android devices.
“Perfect idea,” declared Gretchen Britt, 51, a school clerk in Manhattan who uses cabs and livery cars three to four times a month, always driven by men. “You feel safer and more comfortable with a woman.”
It got a nod from one Bronx man, Gibson Pierrelouis, 22, even though he was told he could not use the service himself. That was fine, he said. He wanted it for his six sisters.
The women’s livery service was started by Stella Mateo, a mother of two daughters, who said she could have used a female driver to help shuttle them to soccer, field hockey, basketball and gymnastics practices when they were growing up. Mateo’s husband, Fernando, is the founder of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, an industry group representing 30,000 taxi and livery drivers.
Mateo said she also saw her service as a way to help women join an industry that has long been dominated by men.
Of New York City’s 59,999 for-hire drivers of livery cars, green cabs, limousines and luxury sedans, only 2,952 of them, or 5 percent, are women, according to city data. Even fewer women drive yellow cabs: 574 out of 51,874 drivers, or 1 percent.
The new women’s service comes as the livery industry has become safer, in part, because of required measures, such as bullet-resistant partitions and security cameras in cars. During the 1990s, dozens of drivers were killed in a single year and many more assaulted or robbed. Even so, it can still be dangerous for men and women alike, as underscored last month by the fatal carjackings involving two male livery drivers in the Bronx.
Miriam Malave, 54, a livery driver in Brooklyn for three decades, said she gets more requests than she can handle, often from Hasidic women who will only ride with women. Even so, she said, she continues to face discrimination from male drivers who tell her: “This is a man’s job. Go home and cook.”
SheTaxis will partner with existing livery companies to provide the rides at competitive rates, Mateo said. SheTaxis, which has a staff of six, has recruited 50 female drivers, ranging in age from 21 to 70. The service will collect fares through its app, using credit or debit cards, and then send payments to the drivers. “I have a lot of friends, they think it’s dangerous picking up guys in the street,” said Stephanie Rodriguez, 21, a college student who earns about $700 a week driving a livery car in the Bronx.
Meera Joshi, chairwoman of the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, said she saw it as another amenity for riders: “As with so many service industries, the for-hire vehicle industry continues to get more and more specialized in terms of the products and services it offers.”
Mateo said she envisions the livery service expanding to Washington, Miami, Chicago and other cities during the next year. Similar women’s driving services exist in other countries, including India.
At a recent lunch in Manhattan, more than a dozen livery company owners and their representatives welcomed the female drivers, with several noting that women tended to be their best employees. “We can recruit more women and provide better service to the community,” said Jose Viloria, owner of Elegante car service, where only 10 of the 350 drivers are women.
Cristina Velos, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, said she decided to become a livery driver after 17 years as a hotel housekeeper, earning $25 an hour. “I think there’s more opportunity,” said Velos, 42. “You have more time for family. You feel more comfortable. You never have a supervisor.”
Lizette Colon, 30, a marketing representative for a liquor distributor, said she will not only drive for the service on weekends, she will use it herself when she goes to clubs. If she rides with a male driver, she said, she snaps a picture of his license with her cellphone and sends it to a friend as a precaution. “I really don’t like getting into a car with a stranger,” she said. “You don’t know anything about him.”
Others, like Josephina Soto, 25, an aspiring singer looking for flexible hours, said she saw her new job as empowering to women, both in the front seat and the back. As a teenager, she recalled, she once tired of men flirting with her while she was working out and joined a Lucille Roberts gym for women only.
“This is the cab version of the gym,” she said. “I love the whole SheTaxis thing. Most of the time, there’s a lot of men-to-men stuff, but it’s not usually about the women.”