George McEncroe intentionally set out to create a rideshare service where men aren’t welcome.
The Melbourne woman wanted her daughter to go out at night and get home without fear of being assaulted or abused while in transit.
Her teenage daughter was getting ready for a girl’s night out with friends a few years ago when she realised the message she was giving her when it came to getting home safely was a mixed one.
“I could see the hypocrisy in what I was telling her: ‘Don’t talk to strangers, don’t get in a confined space with men you don’t know, don’t share your personal details with men you don’t know’, yet with rideshare services, she was dependent on being in those circumstances to get home safe,” Ms McEncroe told 9news.com.au.
She said she believed Uber, taxi, train or bus can be risky modes of transport for women and vulnerable members of the community, so she created her own rideshare company Shebah.
“I wanted to create a platform to enable women, children and vulnerable members of our community, to have the option of moving around safely,” she said.
Ms McEncroe launched Shebah in 2017 from her Melbourne home. Shebah drivers are exclusively female and they only cater to women, young children and even pets if needed.
While rideshare companies like Uber won’t share figures on assaults on or by drivers, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research told 9News.com.au that latest figures show 13 people were assaulted in an Uber or similar rideshare service in the year up to September 2018.
There were 169 assaults in other vehicles, 94 of which were on women.
According to Crime Statistics Victoria, there were 44 reports of people being attacked in a taxi during the same period. Of those, 32 were male and 12 were female.
In 2017 that total was 49 with six female and 43 male victims reported. According to South Australia Police figures, there were a total 81 assaults on taxi drivers reported last year.
More alarming, a recent Submission to the Senate Inquiry report by the Australian Cross Disability Alliance found that 90 per cent of intellectually disabled women had been or would be sexually abused.
However as with Uber’s launch receiving criticism from taxi services when they first started, Shebah have also copped criticism from the rideshare industry.
Shebah are legally required to display signage on their cars and since its inception, there have been two instances of taxi drivers targeting Shebah staff.
“We did receive negative feedback due to the ‘women-only’ nature of the service,” Ms McEncroe said.
“The critics were predominantly male. They would call to harass and abuse workers in our office and try and defame us on social media. “This service is sexist because the nature of sexual assault is.”
She said Shebah rides are only available for women and children because these vulnerable groups are commonly targeted by criminals and need transport they can feel safe in. By taking male drivers and passengers out of the equation, Ms McEncroe said none of her drivers or passengers have ever been assaulted on a ride.
Looking out for each other during a shift, her drivers are required to meet up with each other regularly at designated sites and passengers even have the option of selecting a vehicle with a camera that connects to FaceTime during the ride.
This option is popular with working mothers who can monitor their children being picked up from school, or where transport is needed for children travelling between newly divorced parents. All Shebah drivers are required to complete a working with children check before they are hired and mums have the option of selecting a car with a fitted baby seat.
When Shebah first started, Ms McEncroe said she had to meet legislative requirements to ensure she wasn’t breaching any anti-discrimination laws.
She received unwavering support from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews whose office approved her in a matter of weeks.
Mr Andrews told 9news.com.au: “Every Victorian has the right to feel safe as a passenger or a driver of a rideshare vehicle. Our reforms have paved the way for specialist services, including Shebah, to cater to those passengers who may feel safer and less vulnerable travelling with a female only driver.”
Getting approval in NSW however took 10 months, a lot longer compared to other states and there were also hurdles on vehicle requirements in the NT.
To any haters who say Shebah is unfairly discriminating against men, Ms McEncroe says: “I encourage men to start their own rideshare business exclusively for men, if they feel so inclined.”
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019