Coquitlam city councillor Teri Towner started driving for Uber on Jan. 24, 2020, the first day the ride-hailing service was allowed in Metro Vancouver. (Teri Towner/Submitted)

‘You’re my first female driver’: B.C. women hit the road in male-dominated ride-hailing sector

Women driving for Uber and Lyft open up about safety, licensing and why they’re in the minority

Miriam Pulsifer was driving to work when she heard a radio ad about Uber coming to Metro Vancouver. It said the ride-hailing service was short drivers for their Jan. 24 launch and encouraged Class 4 licence-holders to apply.

Pulsifer had her Class 4 from when she used to be a youth recreation coordinator and decided to try it out.

On the day of the launch she turned on the app and watched her phone start “going off every split second.” Since then she has completed 150 trips for Uber and sees it as a good opportunity to supplement her income in the summer, when her current job at a school slows down.

But as a woman profiting from ride-hailing, Pulsifer is in the minority.

ALSO READ: Uber, Lyft approved for ride-hailing in Lower Mainland

Across all of Lyft only 23 per cent of drivers identify as female.

And according to Uber spokesperson Stephanie Sedlak, numbers are worse in markets that have the contentious Class 4 licence requirement set out by the B.C. government. The City of Calgary also has the requirement, for example, and city data showed that in 2017, less than 5 per cent of rideshare drivers were female.

“I’ve had comments like, “I’ve never had a woman Uber driver,” Pulsifer told Black Press Media. “It’s true — I’ve never seen a woman cab driver before.”

ALSO READ: No injunction for B.C. taxi industry against Uber, Lyft pending judicial review

The World Health Organization estimates one in three women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime, so it’s no surprise safety concerns are raised as possible cause for the under-representation of women drivers in ride-hailing.

A 2018 Driving Toward Equality report published by the International Finance Corporation — a sister organization of the World Bank — found that 64 per cent of women drivers surveyed cited safety and security concerns when asked why more women do not sign up for ride-hailing.

Speaking for Uber, Sedlak said “many women have voiced concerns to us regarding safety.” To make women and men drivers feel more comfortable, she said they have introduced safety features including an in-app emergency button, GPS that helps sense when a trip goes unusually off course, and a “Share My Trip” option that drivers can use to share details of a trip with a friend or family member.

Still, Pulsifer said she wouldn’t feel safe doing trips in the evening.

“I just wouldn’t feel safe as a woman driving,” she said of late-night trips. “You just never know who is getting in your car.

“It’s just the thought of driving around at night, and the thought of people being drunk and getting into your car and having to deal with that.”

If Uber allowed a buddy system, she said that could help.

“If I was able to have somebody with me, that would make me feel a lot safer and I would probably feel better about driving in the evening.”

ALSO READ: #MeToo — Women tell stories of sexual assault and harassment on social media

Coquitlam resident Teri Towner also shared uncertainty about driving to certain areas late at night. A city councillor since 2014, Towner has been an advocate for ride-hailing as a way to fill transportation gaps for years — she encouraged her council to write a letter to the provincial government in 2015 urging them to allow ride-sharing — and started driving for Uber and Lyft on Jan. 24 to demonstrate walk-the-talk leadership.

In less than four weeks, between work, undergoing a surgery and getting her kids to and from sporting events, Towner said she has completed 64 trips.

“I really enjoy it. I haven’t once felt unsafe,” she said, adding that she trusts the passenger rating systems and has received in-app messages when she’s been stalled at a certain location for a long time. “Both apps have 24/7 support, emergency assistance, they know exactly where your location is.”

She’s met new people — others who “act surprised” to see a woman driver in ride-hailing and a U.S. prosecutor who said he also drives for ride-hailing services in his spare time, to name a few.

“I would say half my rides have been solo males and I haven’t once felt unsafe, but I do recognize that some women are uncomfortable with that,” she said. “I’ve had other women say, ‘I would love to do it, but I’m scared.”

While Towner said she trusts the apps and thinks “people are awesome,” she also said she wasn’t sure if she’d drive to “all areas at all times.”

ALSO READ: B.C. sees spike in drivers applying for Class 4 licences after ride-hailing approved

Aside from safety concerns, Pulsifer said the Class 4 licence requirement is “a huge, limiting factor” for women, who have been under-represented in the transportation industry for decades. (The same 2017 City of Calgary data showed that less than 1 per cent of taxi drivers were female.)

“I have friends who would be great Uber drivers … but the only thing that’s holding them back is the Class 4,” she said.

Towner said when she heard about the provincial Class 4 licence requirement she thought it was “ridiculous,” but applied to get one, in addition to completing the required commercial vehicle inspections and medical exams. All told, the process cost her $513.

“We know that there is a barrier to becoming a rideshare driver in B.C. — and especially for women — due to the provincial government’s requirement that rideshare drivers hold a Class 4 licence,” Sedlak said.

“Currently, less than 10 per cent of all B.C. driver licences held are commercial and less than 15 per cent of those are held by women. On the flip side, women hold 50 per cent of all standard licences (Class 5) and are generally safer drivers.”

Aside from advocating that the government not require commercial driver licences for ridesharing, Sedlak said Uber “will continue speaking with women to encourage those looking for a flexible earning opportunity to sign-up.”

ALSO READ: In a matter of hours, women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to drive

“I would totally recommend it,” Pulsifer said of signing up. “I said to my friends, ‘You should try it if you love driving and it’s a great way to make extra money.”

Towner said she’s trying to encourage women to do the same.

“I love the flexibility of it, meeting new people and giving residents options,” she said. “Driving for a rideshare company offers a really flexible way to get out there and earn some money.

“It’s kind of empowering.”

ALSO READ: Uber and Lyft drivers strike across the U.S.



karissa.gall@blackpress.ca

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