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In an effort to make rides safer, Lyft launches Women+ Connect

Lyft announced it's rolling out a new safety feature in San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Phoenix, and Chicago.
David Zalubowski
/
AP
Lyft announced it's rolling out a new safety feature in San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Phoenix, and Chicago.

Some women and nonbinary drivers for Lyft can now match up with women and nonbinary riders, using a new feature launched by the rideshare service earlier this week.

The in-app option, called Women+ Connect, was added to Lyft's services in a move to improve safety after a raft of lawsuits in recent years accused the company of failing to protect passengers and drivers.

It's also designed to boost the number of women and nonbinary drivers working for the San Francisco-based company. Currently they make up just 23% of the drivers on the platform, according to Lyft.

"This highly requested feature offers more control over the driving experience for women and nonbinary people, allowing them to feel that much more confident. And with fewer barriers to driving, more women can access flexible earning opportunities," Lyft said in a statement.

Drivers can choose to turn on a preference in the Lyft app to prioritize matches with other nearby women and nonbinary riders. It's the same opt-in type of deal for riders. But it's not a guarantee. If no riders or drivers matching the descriptions are nearby, they will still be paired up with men.

The added service is only being rolled out in San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Phoenix, and Chicago.

Lyft and its primary rival Uber, have come under increasing scrutiny over safety issues, especially sexual assaults, since launching more than a decade ago.

Last September, Lyft was hit with 17 lawsuitsbrought by users, claiming the company failed to protect passengers and drivers from physical and sexual assault. In 2019, it faced another similar wave of lawsuits from women riders who accused the company of knowing about alleged attacks by predatory drivers for years but doing nothing to address the issue.

It was this series of legal filings that prompted Lyft to announced added safety measures, including an emergency call button on its app, new training for drivers and a "smart trip check in" that aims to sense when a trip has "unexplained delays" and pings a rider.

Meanwhile, in June 2022, Lyft reached a $25 million settlement to resolve shareholder class action lawsuit that claimed the company concealed safety problems, including sexual assaults by drivers, prior to its 2019 initial public offering.

Lyft did not respond to NPR's request for comment or updated data on driver and user safety.

A 2021 community safety report issued by the company, revealed that more than 4,000 people were assaulted during Lyft rides from 2017-2019. Of those, 320 were attacks of "attempted non consensual sexual penetration" and 360 were assaults involving "non consensual sexual penetration."

The report included 10 fatal assaults from 2017 through 2019, "involving an individual using the Lyft platform."

At the time, the company said that while grim, statistically the numbers are miniscule given the millions of rides offered each year.

A more recent analysisfrom Uber showed that company received 3,824 reports of sexual assault and misconduct from 2019 to 2020. According to Uber, riders were the accused party in 43% of the incidents.

Human Rights Campaign chief of staff, Jay Brown called the new feature an inclusive product that's coming "at a time when so many companies are shying away from explicit inclusion of transgender and non-binary people."

Brown added: "When rideshare is better for these folks, it's better for everyone, and we at HRC stand behind that."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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