Justin Peligri: All-female taxi service would improve student safety

Metrorail. Circulator. Capital Bikeshare. Uber.

There are several ways to travel in the District. And on top of that, the city is one of the most walkable in the country.

But during late-night hours, do women – who comprise almost 53 percent of the D.C. population, according to the most recent census, and 55 percent of GW’s student body – feel safe commuting via any of these methods?

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Justin Peligri

To avoid danger, some might see a taxi – which doesn’t leave you exposed in the same way waiting alone at a Metro stop does – as the safest option. But earlier this school year, students were notified through a campus-wide alert that a taxi driver allegedly sexually assaulted a female student in his cab near Tompkins Hall, sending the message that an assault can happen anywhere.

I know that a substantial number of my female friends don’t always feel safe moving around campus, an unfortunate reality of living in a large city.

That’s why, for female students looking for a safe traveling alternative, the District should consider an all-female taxi service.

The good news is that one already exists. Starting last week, female taxi riders in New York City can download the SheTaxi app and request a female driver. It’s a brand new, exclusively by-women, for-women company that aims to provide women with a safe and comfortable way to travel through the city’s five boroughs and the surrounding metropolitan area.

Ideally, women would feel safe traveling regardless of their method of transportation. Sadly, that’s not the case, and in a world like ours where violence against women is a reality, adding extra safety precautions is a logical move.

It likely wouldn’t be too difficult to encourage GW’s female population to take advantage of a taxi service geared exclusively toward their demographic. In the same way Uber rapidly became popular because of its smartphone app, SheTaxi could achieve an equal level of name recognition if it is marketed correctly. Not to mention a service like this could supplement GW’s recently unveiled PAL app, which gives students a list of taxi companies.

Whether SheTaxi would face legal hurdles in the District if it expands has, of course, yet to be seen. But other independent taxi services with which many GW students are familiar, like Uber, have thrived in D.C. There’s no reason why SheTaxi couldn’t bring its experiment here as well.

A move to the D.C. area would require SheTaxi to hammer out many of the same logistical issues the new company faces in New York. The owner has shot down charges of anti-male discrimination, explaining that the company will happily link men to other taxi services if they hail a cab through the app. It’s still unclear, though, whether men are allowed to travel via SheTaxi if they are in the company of one or more women.

The thought of not being allowed to travel with female friends just because of my gender is discomforting. There’s a huge benefit to a taxi service with female drivers, but shoving out men who travel with their female friends seems extreme.

A representative from SheTaxi did not return repeated requests for comment to clarify its policy on male travelers or whether it plans to move to other cities in the future.

And, as a disclaimer, it’s far too reductive – and, in fact, offensive – to suggest that all men who drive taxis are sex offenders. That’s certainly not the case. Generally speaking, I’m opposed to companies and organizations that exclude based on gender because it deters positive and healthy social interactions.

But safety comes first. And if this gender-exclusive company can protect thousands of women traveling across D.C., it’s a business model I can rally behind.

Justin Peligri, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet senior columnist.

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