When investor William Jordan's teenage daughter asked last February if she could drive for a ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft, he said no way. It didn't seem safe for her to chauffeur around male strangers.
Jordan later researched other ride-hailing apps in the Los Angeles area that might be more secure for women, but he came up empty. So he decided to start his own company, See Jane Go. The service launched Tuesday in Orange County, California, and is designed exclusively for women: only female drivers and only female passengers.
"All of the homework we did, much of it was statistics around violence, led us to believe there really is a market for this," said See Jane Go CEO Kimberly Toonen.
News of sexual assaults by ride-hailing drivers has been a frequent occurrence. Reports of rape, sexual assault and harassment have grabbed headlines in California, Georgia, Illinois, Texas, Washington, Florida and other states. An Uber driver in Boston was charged with raping a 16-year-old female passenger in August, and earlier this month police reported another Uber driver in the city was charged with two counts of rape after driving a woman home late at night.
The idea with See Jane Go is to take men, who are the most likely perpetrators of sexual violence, out of the equation to make rides safer for women, Toonen said.
"We have heard stories that really freaked me out," she said. "We're not in any way attempting to be discriminatory, we just want to eliminate uneasiness."
Men can ride in a See Jane Go car if a woman hosts them. If men are alone but want to use the app, See Jane Go will hail them a car from Uber, Lyft or another service for the same price and wait time.
This isn't the first time an all-female driving fleet has been used in an attempt to cut down on sexual assault and harassment. In the wake of a brutal rape by an Uber driver last year in Delhi, India, a group of women launched a female-only taxi service there called Sahkha. Comparable services can be found in Mumbai, India, and a similar company called SheTaxis launched in New York last September. In April, another women-driving-women app called Safeher rolled out in Boston.
"This is a brilliant idea," said Diane Rosenfeld, director of the Gender Violence Program at Harvard Law School. "It's really important to recognize how vulnerable women are when they try to participate in society."
While these services could curb sexual assaults in the ride-hailing sector, they may not do much in terms of preventing rape overall, said Monika Johnson Hostler, president of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. She explained that perpetrators of sexual violence will likely use other means to find victims.
"At the very least it will reduce the sexual assaults that happen in transport services," Hostler said. "But preventing sexual assault is more of a long-term goal."
See Jane Go's app works similarly to Uber and Lyft. When a passenger wants a ride, she presses a button on her phone and a driver will show up momentarily. The fee and wait time for the ride will be about the same as Uber and Lyft, Toonen said. After Tuesday's launch in Orange County, See Jane Go expects a rapid spread to major cities across the US in the coming year. Next in line is Los Angeles. The app is free and available on Android and iOS.
"This is truly about choice for women," Toonen said. "This is leveling the playing field."
Uber and Lyft did not respond to requests for comment for this article.