I picked up Suzanne from the San Francisco Armory located in the Mission. The Armory is currently home to Kink.com, whose mission to “create the most authentic BDSM experiences that foster community and empower people to explore their sexuality.”
We had lively conversation, about Kink.com and more, on our twenty minute ride to the Sunset district. I had brought up an incident another passenger had recounted about almost getting robbed by her taxi driver. This opened up a can of worms. Suzanne’s cheerful demeanor had shifted. At first, I wondered if I had said something to offend her. She soon shared with me a troubling experience she had with another driver.
Something felt off about this ride
Early one morning, a few weeks prior, Suzanne was running late on her way to work in the Mission. She was picked up by a van around 8am. It’s worthwhile to note that ride share passengers usually get in the front seat of the vehicle, as she did with me, but in this case she sensed something was “off” about the driver. She got in the backseat of the vehicle and gave the driver her destination. As most drivers would do, he punched the address in the GPS and set out towards their destination.
Passengers, especially those that have lived in the city for a long time, often have preferred routes. Suzanne had a route that she asked the driver to take. The driver insisted that GPS was more efficient. Suzanne was not comfortable with the GPS route, explained why, and asked him to please take her suggested direction. The driver aggressively said, “no!”
When a ride goes terribly wrong
The conversation between driver and passenger escalated to the point where Suzanne became extremely uncomfortable. She asked him to pull over immediately so she could get out of the vehicle. With an eery calm, the driver refused her request. He locked the doors of the van and proceeded in the opposite direction of her destination.
Needless to say, Suzanne became panicked and somewhat frantic. How could this happen? Where was he planning to take her? She started protesting, screaming, crying and punching the back of his seat, but to no avail. He refused to respond to her requests and with quiet determination, continued to drive.
The best of two evils
As they approached one of the busiest intersections in the city, while the van was moving, Suzanne managed to unlock the doors and escape. This in itself is a risk, but the danger of jumping out of a moving vehicle was eclipsed by the fear of how this situation could develop. As Suzanne was jumping out of the vehicle, in her peripheral vision she saw the driver scrambling to lock the doors to prevent her departure.
Suzanne shared with me some of the experiences that her coworkers, many of which are actresses on Kink.com movie shots, have recounted for her. After exhausting days, these women catch cabs or order cars home and experience harassment by drivers. Unfortunately, this is a reoccurring theme. Studies have been conducted echoing these concerns and other concerns of women taking public transportation. Many women have shared stories about their experiences of getting inappropriately touched on buses or having to deal with cab or ride share drivers, who are taking them home, making unwelcome advances. This creates major issues since the drivers know where these women live.
Companies, such as Lyft, are attempting to address the concerns of female passengers and create a more welcoming environment. For example, INC reports that, “The bright pink color was…to make their branding less masculine than competitors, and nod to their very welcome view toward female passengers and drivers, as well as emphasis on safety for women.”
Suzanne told me that she reported this incident to the ride share company. She had said that she was very scared and still cries about it. What haunts her the most about the situation, is how calm the driver remained, regardless of her protests.
Have you ever had an unwelcome or harassing experience on public transportation?
What can transit and ride share companies do to create safer places for women and all passengers?
Leave your thoughts in the comments section.