New London, Ont., ride-share service for women and gender diverse groups aims to put brakes on safety concerns

Terri Phipps started Wilma, a ride-sharing service for female and gender diverse riders and drivers, after hearing many safety concerns from passengers. Launched in London, Ont., in May, there are plans to bring Wilma to Toronto by late November, adding to similar services in different parts of Canada.

Similar ride-hailing, taxi services exist in Vancouver, Charlottetown, Halifax and Manitoba

Wilma driver Zeba Hussain explains safety concerns for drivers

28 days ago
Duration 0:59
Wilma driver Zeba Hussain shares a recent incident she had with another rideshare app and how it makes her feel unsafe to do her job.

A bad experience with an Uber driver pushed Kanika Gandhi to stop using all ride-share apps for at least two months because of how frightened and unsafe she felt in the moment. 

"He was being way too friendly and while driving, his hand was not on the wheel — it was behind him like where I was sitting, and I was freaking out a little bit wondering what he's trying to do, so I left the Uber," said Gandhi, a 23-year-old student at Western University in London, Ont.

Third-year student Leah Kitching said she almost never uses ride-share apps when travelling alone, and only feels comfortable using them when she's with a group of friends. 

"As a female, if I'm ever riding alone, I'll make sure I'm on the phone with someone that I feel would be able to help me if I was in any situations that could arise," said Kitching, 21.

After hearing these types of concerns, Terri Phipps started Wilma — a ride-hailing service for female and gender-diverse riders and drivers. The app launched in London in May, with the goal of providing riders with a safer alternative, using a monthly membership model, said Phipps, who plans to expand the service to Toronto in late November. 

Similar taxi and ride-share services exist in Vancouver, Charlottetown, Halifax and most recently Manitoba

Wilma members can have male guests ride with them, as long as the guests exit at the same stop as the member or beforehand. As well, members are responsible for their guests' behaviour. 

Leah Kitching, 21, is a Western University student who says she avoids using rideshare apps when travelling alone, and makes sure a loved one always knows where she is if she's ever in a situation where she's alone.
Leah Kitching, 21, is a Western University student in London who says she avoids using ride-share apps when travelling alone. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

"We need a safer option just to take the worry out of it, if nothing else. Tracking your ride doesn't control the atmosphere or feeling uncomfortable getting hit on the whole time," Phipps said.

The idea for Wilma came about when Phipps read a 2019 Huff Post article about American writer Kelly Barnhill's experience in a Lyft ride. It says the driver took her on a 45-minute detour to a remote location when she was on her way from Houston's airport to a hotel on what was supposed to be a much shorter journey.

Barnhill told the driver a fake story about her boss tracking her location. After that, he finally dropped her off at the hotel, she shared on X, formerly known as Twitter, in 2019. The thread went viral and garnered responses from other women who shared similar experiences.  

"What struck me was the amount of women who jumped on the feed with their own Me Too stories, and I thought, 'Are you kidding me?' How have we as women not linked arms and solved this?" said Phipps.

Improved security for riders, drivers

Phipps said Wilma also aims to take the hassle away for female drivers who can be subjected to uncomfortable encounters with passengers. That's what drew Zeba Hussain of London to work as a driver for the company.  

"When passengers book a ride, they know it's a woman coming to get them and same with me," Hussain said. "It makes me feel very secure, but with other apps, there's a small panic because I don't know who I'm getting."

Zeba Hussain is one of Wilma's 50 female drivers. She says working for the company also allows her to feel safe, along with her passengers.
Zeba Hussain, one of Wilma's 50 female drivers, says working for the ride-hailing company also allows her to feel safe, along with her passengers. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Hussain said she's had a few scary incidents with passengers while driving with another company. The most recent one was last week, when five men got into her car even though the ride could only accommodate four passengers, and they kept telling her to stop at different places and follow their instructions instead of Google Maps.

An anxious Hussain eventually stopped at a gas station and cancelled the ride.

Hussain said driving for Wilma also makes her more comfortable working at night, a busier time, because she doesn't have to worry as much about her safety. 

Phipps said she hopes ridership numbers continue to increase in the back-to-school season. 

Both Gandhi and Kitching said they would consider using such a service because it would allow them to feel much safer. 

"Half the inhibition about travelling gets eradicated the moment you know the driver is a female and I think something all girls long for is the feeling of security, right? So I would automatically feel at ease," said Gandhi.


Isha Bhargava is a multiplatform reporter for CBC News. She's worked for Ontario newsrooms in Toronto and London. She loves telling current affairs and human interest stories. You can reach her at