Carpooling app by women, for women, takes a test drive on the streets of London

It’s a homecoming for women, by women.

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It’s a homecoming for women, by women.

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A new ride-sharing company is banking on London’s reputation as a product test market to launch its service here by recruiting female drivers and riders first with the promise of a safer journey home.

Chief Executive Terri Phipps said the idea came to her after reading the story of a woman stuck in a carpool in Texas with the doors locked and no cellphone service when she realized her driver was heading in the wrong direction.

What struck me, how many women jumped on this Twitter thread with #MeToo stories or worse, and I remember thinking, oh my god, how hasn’t anyone solved this yet? Phipps said.

“At my age and stage, I wasn’t dying to be an entrepreneur. This kind of thing happened to me. If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”

Called Wilma, the Vancouver-based service is named after Wilma Russey, New York’s first female taxi driver in 1915, as well as after Phipps’ late mother.

Phipps also uses “Wilmas” as an acronym: Women in Life Moving Around Safely. It’s about building community and providing a safer return home, she said.

“We want to attract women into the gig economy, we want to attract empty mothers who want to make sure women come home safe,” she said.

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The company is onboarding drivers and opening the monthly subscription to cyclists at the same time in hopes of having enough cars on the road by August. Phipps’ said the company’s commitment to safety begins with thorough background and safety checks on all drivers.

London is the first stop, followed by Toronto and Mississauga later this year. Phipps, which works with a team of professionals drawn to other big companies — like Starbucks, Telus and Lyft, she says — hopes to operate in 170 markets in North America over the next few years.

The logging town is well known as a market to launch new products and services, ranging from Tim Hortons iced cappuccinos to ATMs to Beer Store drive-thru.

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It’s also a good place to push security from cThe City Council has pledged to make London safer for women and girls as one of its five key pillars for the term.

Less than two weeks ago, an Uber passenger reported a sexual assault to police, alleging the driver pulled over to the side of the road during a ride and touched her before she can escape from the locked car. A 67-year-old man was charged by police and his account was later disabled by Uber.

Uber sparked intense debate when it launched in London in 2015 because, among other concerns, it does not require drivers to have security cameras in their vehicles, unlike taxis.

Women and non-binary individuals 25 and older with a three-year no-fault driving record are eligible to work for Wilma. They can apply using the Wilma Driver application available in app stores.

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“With us, there’s no play. We take 15%, the driver gets 85% of every ride, no matter when they drive, how often,” Phipps said. There is also a gas allowance to help with rising fuel costs.

“We want to create a community of Wilmas, where they want to support a good living wage for other women.”

Riders, who pay a monthly fee but no booking fees on their rides (usually a few dollars with other ridesharing services), can register online at GetWilma.app.

Membership fees range from $12.99 to $14.99 per month, depending on whether they pay monthly, semi-annually, or annually.

Passengers have the right to bring male friends or guests with them when using Wilma, but they are responsible for the behavior of their guests, and if drivers report issues more than once, that member will be removed from the app.

Phipps said she hopes Wilma takes the uncertainty and fear out of hailing a rideshare.

“We shouldn’t have to play Russian roulette with the way we’re coming home.”

[email protected]

Twitter.com/MeganatLFPress

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