Lady’s choice

How often have you heard someone start a sentence with “The government should …” when suggesting a solution to some problem.
Too often, the government will not do anything, and, almost as often, the solution won’t be all that effective. So, what can you do when you want to fix something?
The acquittal of Halifax taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi in March outraged Alana Canales. She worried about the safety of women riding alone in a cab.
One night, she came up with the idea for #HaliLadyCab, a Twitter hashtag. “There should be a Halifax twitter lady hashtag to identify those of us who would be a ‘cab’ for local ladies who need it #HaliLadyCab,” she tweeted.
The hashtag took off; she encouraged women to put it in their Twitter bios to show their willingness to help a friend in need. Friends on the social media site could then contact them to arrange a ride. About a dozen women joined. “Which is wonderful,” she says, “as it’s a way of identifying ourselves as willing to help others.”
More importantly, says Canales, it started a conversation, one that ranged from outrage over the judge’s decision to whether such a service was needed. The acquittal of the taxi driver, which the Crown is appealing, sparked widespread condemnation because of the circumstances. “It was not a he-said, she-said situation,” Canales said. “It was discovered by a cop. What other reasonable conclusion could you reach?”
Many taxi drivers also condemned the verdict and tried to assure people that incidents like that are rare. Others called the outrage an overreaction and defended the profession, saying it was safe to take a cab and that #HaliLadyCab was not needed.
But women are using #HaliLadyCab. Canales says she hasn’t kept a record of how many people availed themselves of the offer, but the number of requests has decreased.
“The height of it has definitely passed,” she says. “I did provide some rides for some local ladies incident-free and I’m pretty pleased with the amount of conversation it blustered up.”
Putting herself in the public eye has made her a target at times, though. “I had everything from taxi drivers being angry at me for “implying” they were unsafe, to people suggesting I’m seeking fame,” she says. “And some even claiming I was breaking the law and they would report me.”
But she got many more expressions of support and many of those were made publicly, which makes a difference. Too often, people will protest loudly in public and some are reluctant to show support. That wasn’t the case with #HaliLadyCab. “It helped me to know that speaking up in a caring way mattered to people,” she says.
Despite its name, it is neither a cab service, nor a business. Riders don’t pay; #HaliLadyCab is intended as a last resort. “It’s like borrowing a cup of sugar,” Canales says. “If you need it, it’s there, but only if necessary. I only picked up people who I knew directly, or had a friend in common with them. I verified with the common connection in all cases for my own safety purposes.”
There are no obligations on rider or passenger. It’s up to them to decide if they’re comfortable with each other. The victim of sexual assault in the taxi-driver case was drunk, but people don’t have to be out drinking in order to request a drive. The issue of safety doesn’t depend on the sobriety of the passenger, Canales says, adding that women sometimes feel unsafe in taxis even when they’re sober.
Since Canales started the conversation in March, an airport limousine company called LadyDriveHer has launched. It offers women drives to the airport with exclusively women drivers. That company, too, drew criticism, even though it was a smart business decision that identified a clear market niche.
Perhaps instead of complaining about the women who are doing something to make sure women feel safe in cabs, those complaining should direct their anger to the people responsible for the fear.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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