Women-only ride-hailing: new data inspires the movement

More ride-hailing companies are offering women-centred services, but do they get women on the road?

By Alexa Roscoe, Disruptive Technology Lead, International Finance Corporation

The next time you open your favourite ride-hailing app, you may find a surprising feature: the option to choose a woman driver or rider.

Safety is a determining factor when women decide how, when, or if to drive and travel. In the face of widespread harassment in the transport sector, social mores restricting women’s mobility, and overall market demand, sector leaders like Bolt, Didi, and Uber are increasingly adopting women-centred products. This surge begs the question: Do these services succeed in supporting women?

There has been a rapid expansion of women-only options in ride-hailing…  

Last year, IFC published the first research on women-centred services in ride-hailing, interviewing more than 30 companies and identifying seven different active models of women-centred ride-hailing services. The paper explored whether gender-segregated transport, long a topic of heated debate in mass transit, increases women’s mobility and participation in ride-hailing- or whether it just reinforces existing barriers.

Since the report’s publication, services have scaled significantly, growing from pilots to formalised products active across multiple countries. Uber extended its “Women Rider Preference” product from Saudi Arabia to 11 countries in Latin America and Africa, recently extending it to drivers who identify as non-binary as well.  Didi, which in IFC’s initial report described using “Algorithmic Prioritisation” in China to connect women drivers and riders automatically, launched Didi Mujer (Didi Woman), giving women drivers the option to match only women riders in select markets. Most recently, Bolt launched a “Women-only” feature, now active in five countries, which takes a slightly different approach, allowing riders to request matches with women drivers rather than the reverse.

Rapid scaling of women-centred products – even in the face of a global pandemic – has brought them into the mainstream, making it increasingly essential to explore their impact.  

…but do they really open up opportunities for women?

Women-centred services have shown market demand across a remarkably diverse range of contexts. Previously, IFC’s six-country study found that these services would boost women’s use of ride-hailing across locations, particularly when travelling at night, alone, or in insecure areas. In Sri Lanka, 90 per cent of women PickMe riders would like to choose the gender of their drivers, and 25 per cent would be willing to pay a premium to do so.  

Yet confirming if these services succeed in getting women to work in ride-hailing is more complex. Following the legalisation of women’s driving in Saudi Arabia, Uber data shows many women started out by using the “Women Rider Preference” feature exclusively, but gradually transitioned into the main app.  Similarly, in Latin America one in five women who use the feature use it 90 per cent of the time. This suggests that segregated services could serve as a bridge for women into a sector in which they might not otherwise consider working.

Equally important, more than half of drivers who used the option in Brazil drove more overall and at night, when women drivers are least likely to be on the road but demand for rides is higher. This means the product has the potential to increase incomes by helping women work more, and more profitable, hours. As of June 2021, “Women Rider Preference” users had completed over 7 million trips.

Bolt also reported promising data for the first six months of the launch of its “Women-only” option, telling IFC that availability of women drivers increased by as much as 66 per cent in active markets. The feature also seems to be linked with higher trip completion rates for women, addressing a common challenge where men cancel their ride when assigned a woman driver. Globally, women drivers have an average 4.9/5.0 service rating, making them eligible for performance bonuses. As Bolt Regional Director for Africa and the Middle East, Paddy Partridge, noted “Women riders and drivers are essential to the advancement of the ride-hailing industry. The success of these “Women-only” categories proves that the more deliberate inclusion of women contributes to the growth and sustainability of the ride-hailing sector.”

Detours ahead?

Even in the face of strong demand, companies face significant operational hurdles. For instance, matching women drivers, who remain a minority across contexts, with women riders can mean that few drivers serve a large population, potentially decreasing driver incomes and increasing rider wait times. A homogenous user base can also mean dramatic fluctuations in supply and demand: in the early stages of their launch, founders of Egypt-based Fyonka couldn’t understand why they faced a sudden drop-off in driver availability- until they realised many women were at home helping their children prepare for upcoming exams.  

Successful companies intentionally exceed industry standards related to training, social norms, and security. For instance, Ghana’s LadyBird Logistics, a long-distance trucking company, sends out women drivers in pairs and arranges for safe overnight lodging.  Several others offer dedicated training or ensure family buy-in to help build the pipeline of recruits.

Getting women on the road

Women remain a small fraction of transport providers everywhere in the world. Transport gaps for riders reduce women’s labour force participation by more than 15 percentage points. Tackling both challenges means making all forms of transport affordable, accessible, and safe for women. Neither gender-segregated transport nor ride-hailing alone will ever be sole solutions, but as markets reopen and more ride-hailing companies recognise the need to better serve women as drivers and riders, we need to continue to look for new solutions from across the sector and to keep alive the debate on how best to serve women in ride-hailing.

For further discussion and case studies, see “Gender-Segregated Transport in Ride-hailing: Navigating the Debate” and join the conversation using #DrivingEquality. For more on women and ride-hailing, check out the resources below:

See more on ITF’s work on Gender in Transport, including the latest project on developing a Gender Analysis Toolkit for Transport Policies

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