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Car Ride Service Puts Gender In The Driver's Seat

STELLA MATEO: I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. I came here when I was 15 years old. And I have a degree in accounting, and I'm the mother of two daughters and the CEO of my household (laughter). I say that with pride.


That's Stella Mateo. She lives and works in New York and began hearing from her daughters about their late-night taxi ride experiences.

MATEO: My daughters now that are young ladies, you know, will go to the city and will call me at night and say mom, stay on the phone with me because I don't feel comfortable the way, you know, riding - being in a closed space with a stranger, with a, you know, man. I don't feel comfortable. Please stay on the phone with me. So all these insecurities that, you know, sometimes we have, brought on the idea.

VIGELAND: So in September, Mateo launched SheTaxis. It goes by the name SheRides if you're in New York City. It's an app where passengers can request and pay for rides using a smartphone and, in a twist, also choose the gender of their driver.

MATEO: We would ask you would you like to ride with a woman or anyone? It gives you an option.

VIGELAND: I know that you just launched recently. How is the business doing?

MATEO: So far we have women that are signing up for licenses as we speak, over - close to 300 women, besides the women that we have on the road. So it's growing. It's growing fast.

VIGELAND: But you do have male drivers as well as female, is that correct?

MATEO: Well, fortunately men have been extremely supportive. And over 3,000 men are supplying the rides until we build ourselves.

VIGELAND: Until you have enough women just to make that exclusive?

MATEO: Yes, because we have the demand. We don't have the supply. And, you know, the industry is dominated over 97 percent by male drivers. And over 600,000 rides a day in New York City, and 60 percent of those riders are women.

VIGELAND: So then what would make your service any different from others if the vast majority of your drivers are male?

MATEO: Well, what would make the difference is women are going have a choice of, you know, requesting either a woman or anyone. And of course, if you request anyone, you have 97 percent chance of getting someone much quicker. But if you really need, you know, for you to be serviced by a woman, you would make that choice until we build ourselves.

VIGELAND: If a driver can say yes or no based on gender, how is that not discriminatory?

MATEO: It's a legal question that I, you know, I shouldn't answer. But it's not because we are not refusing anyone, we're referring. You know, when you choose female or anyone, it's just giving - allowing those women a choice.

VIGELAND: But can the driver say no? If you have a female driver, could they say no to a male passenger?

MATEO: Well, that's your choice. And again, it's a matter of choice. You can do that now in the street. If a woman is riding - you know, is driving a cab and she chooses not to pick up someone, that's her choice. We have no control over that.

VIGELAND: Uber has been dealing with a lot of issues recently from assault complaints by female riders to this latest problem over comments made by an executive about orchestrating smear campaigns against reporters. I wonder is any of that affecting your business?

MATEO: Yes. Yes, absolutely. More and more people are requesting and saying, you know, you guys need to bill yourselves because we need the service. I've been contacted, you know, by Yelp just from your town, LA, and, you know, different parts of the nation requesting when are we going there, because they're saying they're in desperate need of this service.

VIGELAND: Stella Mateo is the founder of the New York car-sharing company SheRides, also known as SheTaxis. Stella, thank you.

MATEO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.