Taxi! Seeking women to drive for female passengers

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NEW YORK (AP) — Sometimes a woman can be hard to find — if you're looking for one behind the wheel of a taxi in New York City.

Less than 3 percent of the city's about 115,000 licensed taxi, livery and limousine drivers are women, and that can be a problem for women who are reluctant to get into a cab alone with a male driver because of safety concerns or religious and social mores.

An app called SheTaxi would locate taxis with a woman behind the wheel in New York City, Westchester County and Long Island. The app was scheduled to launch Monday, but its creator, Stella Mateo, has delayed it until she gets more drivers. She estimates around 500 drivers are needed to make it viable.

Mateo said about 100 women have signed up as drivers so far. They will wear pink scarves, making it easy to identify them.

"Why don't we have female drivers exclusively for female riders? It would be nice to have that choice," Mateo, said before a news conference Monday. Her husband, Fernando Mateo, is founder of the industry group New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers.

SheTaxi, called SheRides in New York City, has been two years in the making. When it's launched, it will be available for the iPhone initially, and an Android version is in the works. There also are plans to expand to other cities.

Passengers can pay their fares through the app using a credit or debit card. The drivers would be independent contractors.

Taxi and Limousine Commission regulations say for-hire car services are prohibited from refusing customers. Mateo said female drivers registered with her app are free to pick up anyone they want; the app merely helps women who are looking for female drivers.

The city's Human Rights Commissioner, Patricia Gatling, said the agency is reminding car service companies that denying service based on gender is illegal under city law.

Such requests are common among some religious communities, like among some Orthodox Jews and conservative Muslims, where social and cultural mores emphasize men and women staying in separate spheres.

"It's sometimes a little difficult to keep up with the demands," said Richard Tinel, assistant administrator at Brooklyn Radio Dispatch, which has about 10 women driving. "We lose a lot of calls because we don't have enough."

Mateo also hopes the app will spur more women to join the profession.

"We're not looking to take over the industry, we're just looking to raise the number," Mateo said.

Dinorah Decruz, 64, of East Meadow on Long Island, said the app made her decide to get back to driving after stopping about a year ago. She said she had some safety concerns and was almost robbed by a man once. She said focusing on women passengers makes her more comfortable.

"I like the idea," she said. "It feels safe."

Bronya Shaffer, 66, of Brooklyn, said the app is a good idea and she would encourage her daughters to use it. She likened it to being able to go to female doctors or attorneys.

"It's having one more opportunity in our whole world, in all of our interactions everywhere, to know that I can choose to have a woman if I want," she said. "It's kind of nice."


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