/ 15 February 2023

A five-point safety plan for women using Uber and Bolt

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Photo: Getty Images

Growing up in KwaZulu-Natal, the City of Gold represented a world of opportunities, a place to make dreams come true. But being a young woman in the city hasn’t all been smooth sailing.   

A car isn’t affordable so e-hailing services are necessary to move around the city. But over the past two years, there has been an increased number of posts on social media of crimes linked to e-rides.      

I take extra precautions, especially when travelling alone, to lower the risk of being targeted. 

Step 1: Profile 

It all starts with my profile, which states that I’m a 35-year-old black man. Yes, that’s right, I’m no longer a twenty-something woman. 

During 2021 stories circulated about drivers creating fake profiles or having their identities hacked and stolen. These fraudulent accounts can be used to target people based on gender and location, something required of every user to share when creating a rider profile on the app. 

A driver will assume my partner has requested the ride on my behalf when I step into their car. I never dispute such claims. They will assume someone is monitoring the trip.

With a growing number of kidnapping and human trafficking cases changing my user details felt like a no brainer. It’s not foolproof but it makes me feel a tad bit safer knowing that I won’t be seen as a vulnerable young woman living alone. 

Step 2: Check car registration and driver details 

When the driver arrives check the car description and number plate against what’s written on the app. Also check whether the image of the driver is the same as that of the driver. 

In my first year of using e-hailing services, a driver with a woman in the front passenger seat arrived. Noticing my hesitation, he tried to reassure me that I was safe, saying she would be dropped off midway through my ride. 

I headed back into the shop I had come from and cancelled the ride, ignoring the driver’s annoyance.  

Step 2: Examine the car for weird objects 

Once I’ve completed my initial inspection I move to the boot of the car and stand there. Most times that signals the driver to open it. I usually carry a shopping bag with a few books to use as an excuse to check whether someone or some suspicious object is in the boot.  

On the occasions I don’t have a bag my requests to check the boot are often met with strange stares but no one has refused to do so. 

I’ve read stories about people hiding in the boot and the driver making an unplanned turn into the wrong street. The car stops and a stranger jumps out of the boot, attacks the passenger and the passenger is left stranded on the side of the road. As awkward of a request as it may seem to check the boot I’d rather be safe than sorry.   

Step 3: Share the ride 

Share the ride with one or two people you know.  I usually do so with a friend and a sibling. 

Step 4: Leave evidence

As the ride continues I watch the map on my phone. During the ride I’ll leave fingerprints marks on the window and drop strands of hair. Should anything happen at least evidence will be left behind. 

Step 5: Chat to the chatty driver 

Even when I’m not in the mood to have a conversation with the driver I usually do because I’m afraid that if I don’t it may give him reason to harm me. 

Being pleasant and friendly towards a driver makes me feel safer. Sometimes that means ignoring inappropriate comments about my body or sexual advances. I endure it until I arrive at my destination. 

I have to repeat the entire process when I head back home.