“Women cry when they get in the front seat and say, ‘I cannot believe it’s taken my entire life to be able to travel without fear.’”
Georgina McEncroe, the founder and CEO of Shebah, Australia’s first all-female ride-sharing company’s comments certainly hit a nerve with me.
A few months ago, I landed back in Melbourne after a short business trip that was incredibly engaging but it was a jam-packed couple of days. The flight from Perth after a short delay wasn’t quick and a piece of my luggage was also lost, delaying my trip home. Then I faced a long wait at the taxi rank outside the airport so when I finally sat a cab, I was well and truly tired.
What was to come was one of the most uncomfortable taxi rides I’ve experienced in my life
Thank the universe that I opted to sit in the back seat because the journey would have been far worse if I chose to sit in the front. For the next forty plus minutes, the driver proceeded to ask me personal questions. I counted at least 11 different ways he found to ask me out. I was clear in saying no but he just wouldn’t accept the answer. He also sent me a Facebook friend request while we were stuck on the freeway.
So there I was: my options were to jump out of the car on the freeway, which was bumper to bumper or just deal with it. I pretended to talk on the phone so he wouldn’t talk to me and when I finally arrived in my suburb, I made the driver park a street away in case he remembered where I lived. I waited for him to drive off before walking to my house.
This is the reality women face on a daily basis as we go about living our lives.
A Shebah sure would have come in handy for me that evening!
“When I started Shebah, I envisioned young girls leaving a nightclub and getting home safely, I didn’t think about all the other people – men, women and grandmas who are just loving having the option of getting their children home safely,” says McEnroe.
Shebah began in March 2017 in Melbourne and Brisbane with 140 drivers. Today, it’s nationally accredited with over 1,000 drivers. Certain areas around the country, such as Darwin, continue to prove problematic in terms of onboarding drivers given the costs of registration and insurance laws, which can tally up to $1,500. That’s money that some women simply don’t have.
McEnroe says that some states don’t allow for the fact that Shebah drivers work differently to taxi or Uber drivers.
“Our drivers aren’t full-time, they drive within the gaps that their lives provide them. The Northern Territory has a law that a ride-sharing car has to be no more than eight-years-old. For many people that have older cars that sit idle in their homes, this is a major consideration with the regulatory costs.”
There is no doubt that there is a real need for the service that Shebah provides. In recent research conducted by Plan International Australia, the majority of young women aged between 18 and 25-years-old said they felt unsafe on the streets of Sydney at night (we’re talking 90 per cent). Ninety-two per cent admitted to feeling uncomfortable taking public transport alone after dark.
Shebah’s minimum requirements for all drivers is that they have a working with children check, as well as a car that is roadworthy. Every driver also has to let their insurer know they are using their car for ride-sharing purposes.
While the ride-hailing company’s rise is definitely gaining momentum, its rise hasn’t been without its fair share of challenges. Funding continues to be an ongoing problem with McEncroe kickstarting the journey with a GoFundMe page.
“Traditionally, the people who hold the strings in funding are men and sometimes, the very notion of Shebah can be quite a confronting prospect for certain organisations where they have never experienced a sense of vulnerability.
“I was incredibly fortunate to line up a few mentors at the beginning of the journey and I found a great investor who has been brilliant. That was enough to get us to the stage of funding the app initially,” says McEnroe.
She also admits there has been some pushback from certain sectors of the community
“We receive many complaints asking us, ‘why haven’t you got a service called Hebah?’ I think people don’t understand that all anti-discrimination laws have exemptions that have been provided by legislators to ensure balance in sectors.
“Eventually, people may understand, whilst others never will. These people may still be standing outside a Fernwood gym and thinking that it’s not fair, however through common-sense, people recognise that it doesn’t hurt a man that Shebah exists.”
So how have McEnroe’s days changed since she began the business, often driving women and children around herself?
“Being the CEO, talking to investors and managing business-to-business partnerships currently takes up most of my time. At the moment, we are working a lot in the movement of vulnerable passengers, be they sex workers, children in foster care or people fleeing family violence. I spend a lot of time forming relationships with those people in our community and they are really excited to have this option available to them.”
She adds that demand is always greater than supply which any business knows, is always an ideal position to be in. In order for Shebah to expand and continue providing a practical solution to harassment free travel, McEnroe says legislative changes in certain states need to take into account the casual nature of how women are able to work.
“We need to try and get people to have some perspective. To say look, if there’s a single mum with two kids who doesn’t have $1,500 but she has a perfectly good 11-year-old Prius, why shouldn’t she be able to become regulated and become a registered driver?
“We need to understand that there are a whole lot of reasons women get stuck in a poverty trap and Shebah is one of the ways women are boosting their weekly income. Women are busy with other commitments which is why Shebah works so well for them.”
So if you’re a woman, the next time you find yourself needing a ride or are trying to figure out how to get your child safely from point A to B, why not support other women and take a Shebah ride?
Sarah Cannata is the founding editor of This Woman Can.