Men need not apply: Meet See Jane Go, an O.C. startup ride service for women only

by Jenna L. Jones, Staff Writer, Orange County Register

Men need not apply: Meet See Jane Go, an O.C. startup ride service for women only – The Orange County Register When 18-year-old Savannah Jordan first told her father she might join Uber as a driver, he said something to the effect of “over my dead body.” But instead of stopping at a hard “no,” Savannah and her father, William Jordan, came up with a solution: a ride-hailing company exclusively for women drivers and passengers.

In the United States, only 15 percent of adults have used ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft, but 51 percent have heard of the services from media and word of mouth, according to the Pew Research Center. Only 14 percent of Uber drivers are women, the company says.

“There are plenty of women that do feel comfortable using the ride-hail companies that do exist, but maybe they would prefer an environment that is designed for women that has a distinctly feminine feel as opposed to a generic feel,” William Jordan said. “Isn’t that what we all want – choices?”

Getting the company up and running

As a successful wealth manager based in Laguna Hills, William Jordan admitted it didn’t make much sense for a male chief executive to run a female-centric company, so he contacted Kimberly Toonen, a former client and onetime Cox Communications vice president.

“I was the first and only person he thought of as the CEO,” said Toonen. “After four days of vetting the idea, I said, ‘This is just too good.’ I joined in because it really resonated with me.”

The company, See Jane Go, was announced to the public June 21. It raised its first round of funding from friends and family and is looking for more investors.

As competition heats up in the ride-sharing space, Toonen and her four-person corporate team have their work cut out for them. In December, The New York Times reported Uber’s valuation at $62.5 billion. General Motors recently invested $500 million in San Francisco’s Lyft.

A Boston-based company, SafeHer – announced after the Jordans began planning See Jane Go – also offers a female-only drive service, but the app has yet to hit the commercial market.

Toonen and the Jordans gathered focus groups, and said they heard one thing repeatedly from participants: If they didn’t have to pay a premium and wouldn’t have to wait for a pickup longer than a traditional ride-hail service, they would definitely choose the female-only service.

How it works

According to Toonen, buzz is key to the brand going viral. “We need to generate early interest from drivers and passengers signing up. We have to have a certain pool of people waiting in the queue as Jane riders and Jane drivers when we launch in Orange County.”

Expected to be up and running by early fall, See Jane Go follows a model similar to that of Lyft and Uber. Drivers go through an application process and use their own vehicles to pick up passengers via the See Jane Go app. Passengers create a profile, log in with their location and then order a See Jane Go car. Drivers also have the right to refuse service to anyone.

As independent contractors, See Jane Go drivers will undergo an extensive background check that includes pulling the applicant’s DMV and criminal records. And a multipoint inspection is performed on their vehicle, said Toonen.

Recently, online media company Buzzfeed leaked Uber documents that showed some drivers make less than the average Wal-Mart employee. In response to the controversy, Toonen said See Jane Go, by comparison, plans to be as transparent as possible to its contractors, and average pay will depend largely on time and miles driven, time of day and the number of passengers. Unlike Uber, See Jane Go will allow tips.

For men hoping to hail a female driver, See Jane Go redirects them automatically to Uber or Lyft through its app, which avoids any discrimination claims. The company will not allow male passengers unless accompanied by a female.

“We didn’t want to completely cut men out because we want our women to have maximum flexibility using the app,” said Toonen. “As long as the woman is the account holder and is the one who hailed the ride, he can come along. She’s informally saying, ‘He’s OK, he’s with me.’”

She added, “There will never be a situation with a female Jane driver alone with a man in the car.”

Although See Jane Go may not be reinventing the ride-hailing wheel, the company hopes to shatter the glass ceiling above the shared economy by making ride-sharing safer and more egalitarian.

“As a dad of two daughters, I worry whether they will have the same opportunities and access that I had,” said William Jordan. “Women need the opportunity to feel safe while they are pursuing their lives. They shouldn’t have to take a physical risk to access the sharing economy or make some additional money.”

Kimberly Toonen

Kimberly Toonen is the CEO of “See Jane Go”. The app matches women drivers with women passengers, making the ride hailing service more comfortable for women who don’t want to get into a car with a stranger.

Prioritizing the well-being of women

According to Savannah Jordan, fear is the main reason women opt out of services like Uber and Lyft. “If you’re a woman driver, you don’t know who is going to get into your car, and if you’re a passenger, you don’t really know who you is going to pick you up,” she said.

Worldwide, there have been numerous accusations that ride-hail drivers committed assault. In January, Uber driver John M. Kamens was arrested for allegedly driving a 28-year-old home, then returning to burglarize her home and sexually assault her. In San Francisco, a woman produced voicemails and phone calls from an Uber driver who threatened to rape and kill her.

Nationally, 1 in 5 women have experienced attempted or completed rape at some point in their lives, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The statistic points to an unfortunate truth: Women regularly have to be on guard.

“I haven’t taken a Lyft or Uber personally because I am so nervous and anxious about it,” said Savannah Jordan. “I’ve had so many girlfriends tell me their stories of being uncomfortable or actually have had drivers try to assault them. I haven’t wanted to put myself in that position.”

Like taking a self-defense class, creating female-only rides cannot prevent assault, but it may offer an added layer of safety. The U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services’ Office of Women’s Health recommends going to gatherings with friends to lower the risk of sexual assault.

Although See Jane Go riders and drivers may not be friends initially, the company hopes to build relationships between users. Before hopping in the car, riders eventually will be able to select silent, chatty or musical rides and can choose to “favorite” drivers.

“You can imagine all the things that organically can happen during a See Jane Go ride,” said Toonen. “It’s exciting.”

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