New ride-share feature to match women, nonbinary drivers and riders

Some ride-share passengers who are women or who do not identify strictly as male or female will soon be able to prioritize rides with female or nonbinary drivers.

Lyft will begin rolling out the feature, which also allows women and nonbinary drivers to select the same preference, in Chicago Wednesday. The city is one of the first five markets where drivers and riders will have the option.

The goal is to provide more control over the driving experience, and encourage women and nonbinary people to drive, Lyft executives said. That has the potential for widespread benefits, as more drivers can bring more riders, which in turn will mean more potential for all drivers to earn money, said Lyft Head of Design Audrey Liu.

“We wanted to empower women to have access to those economic opportunities by removing one of the barriers to entry by giving them this preference, which increases their sense of control over this driving experience,” Liu said. “And increasing their sense of control gives them more confidence to get behind the wheel and on the road.”

The announcement comes as the number of Lyft active riders and drivers reached “multiyear highs,” CEO David Risher said in an August earnings call with reporters and analysts. The number of drivers using Lyft was more than 20% higher in the second quarter of the year than in 2022, and the number of hours driven grew by 35%, he said.

But few of the drivers are women. In Chicago, 20% of drivers are female, according to a 2023 economic impact report from Lyft, a figure in line with the company’s national trends.

The new feature, which will be available to people whose gender is identified in the app as woman or nonbinary, doesn’t guarantee riders and drivers will be matched with other women or nonbinary people. If none are nearby, drivers will still be matched with men.

Lisa Rice, who drives for Uber and Lyft, greeted the new option with enthusiasm.

Rice, 52, drives from her home in Kankakee County throughout the Chicago area. She said she has no problem picking up any passengers and already regularly drives at night, but sometimes — especially late at night — she would prefer to pick up other women.

She feels fortunate she has only experienced a handful of uncomfortable situations in her seven years driving, and had to call police just once, she said. Still, the feature would make her more comfortable at night, and she suspected it would also make female passengers more comfortable, especially those making late-night runs from work or the airport.

“Most female (passengers) are so happy when they have a female driver, because there’s not a lot of us,” she said.

Brittany Spencer, who goes by Brivonn, drives from her home in Glendale Heights, and said the ability to have some choice in passengers would make her feel safer.

Spencer, 35, has driven since 2015, and said as a female driver she feels she has to be careful and aware of her surroundings, regardless of her passengers’ gender. She mostly drives during the day, except for the occasional busy holiday, and has had mostly pleasant passengers. But every so often one will try to hit on her, and once a passenger tried to touch her, she said.

She thinks the feature will also help her make sure other women, like her, get safely back to their homes or kids.

“Just like I would with my friends,” she said.

In 2022, crimes in ride-shares within the city of Chicago were reported to police 86 times, down from 97 the year before and 131 in 2020, according to Chicago police data. That includes a variety of crimes such as small and large thefts, criminal damage to vehicles, financial identity theft and more serious assaults, batteries and sexual assaults.

So far in 2023, crimes have been reported 69 times, the data shows.

But the feature is more about comfort and boosting confidence to drive, Liu said. Flexible ways to earn money, while important to a variety of people, tend to be especially important to women, she said.

“We’re trying to boost their confidence and give them more access to those earnings opportunities,” she said. “But I think it is that lack of confidence that is preventing them from participating in ride-share.”

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