When I interned at Google last summer, the corporate deities blessed me each morning with an internal newsletter touting newfangled novelties. On a particular morning, I stumbled upon a Google Maps feature released in India titled “Stay Safer” that notifies users if drivers deviate more than 500 meters from the suggested route. Stay Safer also enables users to share their trips with friends and family.
The feature is designed for women in India, where only 11% of women drive, leaving most women dependent on men for transportation. While Stay Safer is a good start on the path to intersectional design in rideshare, vast opportunities exist for instruments that far surpass the feature’s offerings.
Mobility is an intersectional issue. Gendered discrimination and binary, heteronormative environments limit non-conforming individuals’ use of public space. Race, gender, socioeconomic status, and geographical location influence rates of transportation violence. Uber’s 2019 Safety Report catalogs 3,045 reports of assault. Over 500 allegations surfaced against Uber and Lyft between 2014 and 2018 for sexual assault, harassment, kidnapping, and death. There exists an utmost need for action to prevent and respond to violence in rideshare.
Lyft currently offers in-app safety features such as the option to call 911 from the app and a prompt about support if the ride stops for an unusual amount of time. Uber permits riders to call 911 as well. RideCheck, an Uber function that bears similarities to Google’s Stay Safer, detects when trips deviate from the route. These features, however, are dependent on user action. In the event of an assault, riders may not be able to access their phones for help, so rideshare platforms should offer preventative measures in addition to the current reactive offerings.
To engineer preventative tools for rider safety, rideshare firms must engage members with diverse perspectives such as women, the BIPOC community, gender experts, and violence prevention experts. Rideshare organizations should marshal engineering teams dedicated to extensive research of rider experiences, creating and testing entities that bolster violence protection.
Rideshare organizations should marshal engineering teams dedicated to extensive research of rider experiences, creating and testing entities that bolster violence protection.
Currently, ridesharing is classified as private accommodation. If Congress or state legislatures classify ridesharing as a form of public accommodation, ridesharing companies will be obligated to discourage discrimination of riders based on characteristics such as gender and race.
Such a mandate could encourage companies to build algorithms that determine which drivers regularly refuse fares from riders of certain races or genders. These drivers could then be given training on fairness in the “workplace” and, based on their determined level of violence risk, could also receive training or formal admonition on the consequences of violence against passengers.
A common misconception touts that riders should be the sole focus of rideshare safety. In truth, drivers are also at risk for violence and assault. 42% of the 3,045 cases of assault reported to Uber in 2018 were filed by drivers. To craft topflight driver safety securities, rideshare businesses can publish surveys through driver-specific applications, asking drivers for feedback about occasions in which drivers felt unsafe or actions that drivers take to increase safety.
On January 29, 2019, Indigenous woman Kristine Howato was murdered while driving for Lyft. Lyft has yet to address and take responsibility for her death. Howato joins a nauseating slew of missing or murdered Indigenous women in the United States. Lyft should acknowledge its failure to protect Howato, and rideshare organizations must approach driver safety with an intense focus on innovating for Indigenous users.
There also exists a salient need to protect gender non-conforming individuals’ mobility in society. A nationwide survey by Lambda Legal, an American Civil Rights organization, and over 100 partner organizations demonstrated that 12% of survey participants identified as transgender or gender non-conforming. Woefully, rideshare companies have yet to design innovations for the safety of gender non-conforming individuals.
Transgender Lyft driver Marla Standing-Owl quit driving last year after an intoxicated man assaulted her, provoking intense fear for her life. From a sample of 7,500 transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in the United States, 63% reported experiences of serious discrimination such as job loss, assault, and denial of medical services. 35% of respondents reported harassment, physical assault, or denial of equal treatment while using buses, taxis, and trains. To craft innovations for gender non-conforming individuals’ safety, engineers must acutely investigate the complexities of various intersectional factors.
There is an appalling scarcity of research on harassment of gender non-conforming individuals. Most available scholarly research on individuals outside of the gender binary focuses solely on transgender individuals. To produce protective mechanisms for gender non-conforming people, substantial research must be conducted to understand the scope of harassment and assault on gender non-conforming people of various gender identities.
Participatory research on transgender populations suggests that transgender communities are seeking resources that specifically address their needs. An example of a prospective technology is a rideshare application for transgender people. Such applications can be developed, as well as tools designed for people of various gender non-conforming identities. Rideshare companies can sponsor support groups for drivers and riders of certain gender non-conforming identities, and designers can employ experiences shared in these groups to engineer precise protections for gender non-conforming individuals.
Rideshare continues to transform the world, but as with all avant-garde technologies, radical change forebodes serious safety implications. To properly protect people of various backgrounds, companies must meticulously apply intersectional approaches to innovate for all users.
Last Updated 8/31/20
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