By Jordan Graham
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A new Boston taxi service for female delivers and passengers may have trouble launching. One attorney says the business model runs counter to a state law requiring companies to adhere to anti-discrimination policies.
A new ride-for-hire app catering to female drivers and passengers may run afoul of discrimination laws and new state regulations.
Safr, which will begin an invitation-only launch next week and a public launch March 1, will employ all female drivers and only accept ride requests from women — though if a woman is with a man, he can ride, the company said.
“There’s a big hole in the ride-sharing economy right now, especially for women and families,” said Safr spokeswoman Joanna Humphrey Flynn. “A lot of women don’t feel safe driving.”
And though Safr’s unique approach to the ride-sharing industry could be a million-dollar idea, Duane Morris discrimination attorney Bronwyn Roberts said the business model runs counter to a state law requiring companies to adhere to anti-discrimination policies and a decades-old Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination decision. In 1983, commission members ruled a taxi company was a “public accommodation” and was therefore prohibited from discriminating against anyone on the basis of gender, religion or race.
“There may be issues,” Roberts said, though she pointed out state legislators have carved out exceptions in the past for other organizations, including women-only health clubs.
And though its business model may be in conflict with current laws, Safr said it has not had substantial conversations with the state’s new Transportation Network Company division, and has not sought to begin background checks that Uber and Lyft are required to perform.
“We’re working really closely with our legal counsel to make sure we’re in compliance with all laws,” Flynn said. “Right now we don’t see any issues.”
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