A ride-hailing service for female and gender-diverse riders and drivers will be launching in London, Ont., this summer.
Wilma is a new women-driving-women membership service that will be operating across the Forest City this month.
“I didn’t really think I was going to be an entrepreneur,” said Terri Phipps, CEO and co-founder of Wilma. “But I thought if not me, then who and if not now, then when.”
Phipps said that the idea came to her after hearing about a particularly frightening experience a friend had with a male ride-share driver in Houston, Texas.
“She was actually going 90 miles an hour on the highway in the opposite direction of her hotel and she realized she had no bars on her phone,” she explained. “She had this moment where all the blood drained out of her face.
“She made up a story that she works for a high-tech security firm and her boss is waiting for her at the hotel,” Phipps said. “(Saying) he’s turned on track my phone, and probably turned on the voice recognition. She then inserts the driver’s name and that works. He takes the next off-ramp, doubles back and drops her off at a hotel. She just wants to kiss the ground when she gets out after the 45-minute-long detour.”
Last month, the London Police Service charged a 67-year-old male ride-share driver after it says a female passenger was assaulted.
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After reading about a number of additional uncomfortable encounters between women and ride-share drivers online, Phipps drafted a plan with a friend out of Calgary that would become the foundation for Wilma.
“Wilma is about freedom,” said Mary Morrison, Wilma SVP of partnerships and co-founder. “(It’s) for every woman who has ever felt uncomfortable, had to make up a story, fake a phone call, or mention a non-existent husband to ensure her safety when ride-hailing.”
Phipps explained that the name “Wilma” is rooted in German and Dutch to mean resolute protector.
“It’s also the very first female taxi driver in New York City in 1915, her name was Wilma Rossi,” she said. “But really, the idea is my late mother’s name is Wilma.”
A high school teacher and a single mother of five, Phipps remembered something her mother said on a family trip to the mall.
“My mom would say, ‘There’s five of you and one of me. So, if any of you get lost, find a mom, find a Wilma, and she’ll make sure you get home safely.’ That really stuck with me,” she said.
She says by using Wilma, women can sign up for a monthly membership that will waive the booking fee, adding that it also helps ensure drivers get to keep 85 per cent of their commission.
“This way we can attract more women to the gig economy,” she said. “They can now drive any time (and) not just the safest time because there was a bit of a wage disparity previously because they (drivers) didn’t want to drive on Friday and Saturday nights because it was less safe.”
Also launching in Toronto and Mississauga, Ont., the ride-hailing program will be available across London starting July 26.
Phipps explained why London was chosen as one of the first cities Wilma would be launched in.
“London has been tremendously supportive,” she said, highlighting the “overwhelming” positive response from local colleges, universities, and city and community organizations. “It was absolutely the obvious choice because in the whole idea of leading the startup you want to build, measure, and learn.
“I’m hoping and believing that London will help us through our growing pains, so that we can bring this service to all over North America to all the women who need this.”
In an Angus Reid survey conducted for Wilma, four in five Canadian women — approximately 79 per cent — said they would purchase a women-only ride-hailing service if it were offered in their city
For more information about becoming a driver or how to sign up as a member, visit Wilma’s website.