Nearly every woman has a story: you get in a taxi or ride share with a male driver and the conversation turns a bit too personal. The driver wants to know if you have a boyfriend, where they are, what you do for a living, if you're married... Do you put up with the unpleasant conversation? Do you tell them it's inappropriate? Do you report the driver and fear the consequences because they now know where you live?
George McEncroe was fed up with the dilemma women face of choosing the least worst transport option for getting home. She decided that there had to be a better way for women and children to get from A to B without fear and to allow women to enter the male-dominated transport and ride-share industry.
"We're raised as little girls to not get into a car with a man. But at the end of the night it is the only option we are left with," McEncroe told The Huffington Post Australia.
She was also searching for a way to supplement her income as an Uber driver, but was scared off by stories from other women drivers having altercations with male passengers. She even heard stories of female Uber drivers carrying capsicum spray and nunchucks as a safety precaution.
"I'm a single mum of four kids and I thought this could potentially go horribly wrong," she said.
So McEncroe developed a new female-driven ride sharing app called Shebah. Women, girls, M to F trans gender women and boys up to the age of 12 years will be able to use the new app when it launches mid-February. Couples and mixed groups will not be able to use the service. It'll start operating in five places: Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Sydney, Melbourne and Geelong.
The demand for the app is so huge that the startup is frantically trying to recruit enough drivers to meet demand. It's not just parents of teenagers and young women who are crying out for this service. McEncroe gets emails and calls every week from parents of children with disabilities and people with elderly or sick parents asking about when the service will be rolled out.
be 21 years or older
hold an unrestricted Australian drivers licence that you've had for a minimum of 12 months
have good English communication skills
have an iOS or Android phone
have access to a car in excellent condition. Your car can be any age but it must have four doors and five seats as a minimum
complete a roadworthy certificate for that car every year
car insurance for the car you'll be driving
have rideshare insurance
have an ABN and pay tax
State specific requirements for transport driver accreditation and working with children checks (see Shebah website)
The app has been designed with extra safety features: you know who will pick you up, the colour of their car and parents of children passengers are encouraged to Facetime their kids to make sure the ride is working out. Every car will be stocked with sanitary products, water, mints and contact information for support services so that "every car will feel like a home on the road."
And if that wasn't comforting enough, 1% of every fare will go charities that promote respectful relationships, deal with perinatal anxiety and depression and women's housing.
With the app in final stages of testing and approval, Shebah is on the lookout for more drivers, especially in Sydney and Melbourne. Over 335 drivers are all ready to go and another 2000 have registered an expression of interest. There is a diverse range of women signing up to drive, from dentists to dog walkers. Drivers get an 85% cut of every fare and will have access to financial advice.
The app is a first in Australia, but a similar business started in Boston last year called Chariots for Women, soon to be relauched as Safr. Ex-Uber driver Michael Pelletz co-founded the company with his wife Kelly after he had a scary experience driving a drunk passenger and realised why women were put off from being Uber drivers.
"There's a lot of those Uber women who have said 'I will be driving with you for sure'," McEncroe said.
McEncroe thinks the taxi industry had have more than enough time to fix their problem of sexual harassment and assault. The industry itself is extremely male-dominated -- approximately 96% of drivers are men -- and haven't been interested in extra safety measures like turning on the sound on CCTV cameras.
Shebah has it's critics too -- some say the service discriminates against men or lament the fact that it has come to the point where segregated ride share is a thing.
"There are other services that men can use," George McEncroe said.
"The idea of this is not to say all men a terrible and evil and wicked but we just want to bring in another option for women.
"It should be a win for everybody it should make people feel more included."