Trenelle Doyle has always been a fan of the open road.
She got used to being in the car as a kid, with a family that moved around a lot, criss-crossing the country via car. When she grew up, being behind the wheel felt familiar, even peaceful.
So when she needed some extra cash during college, she says, it felt right to pick up shifts driving for Uber, the ride-share giant.
Right away, Doyle says, she noticed a trend: “The majority of women would get into my car and say, ‘Oh, thank god you’re a woman,” she says. “They would proceed to tell me their not-so-great experiences with a creepy driver, with getting dropped off around the corner because they didn’t want the driver to know where they lived, with being harassed, or kicked out of the vehicle.”
Doyle could relate. She’d been sexually harassed as a driver, forced to kick passengers out of her car and, she says, “As a Black woman, when I drove to certain parts of town, I’d get nervous that they were not the best parts of town to be in as a person of color.”
Why, she wondered, wasn’t there a ride-share service centered on safety first? It was a germ of an idea, seeded when she gave a ride to a sex worker (“They’d always tip me more,” Doyle notes), the manager of a strip club who said her dancers would love a ride-share service where they could count on a safe, clean, judgement-and-harassment-free ride.
Fast forward a few years and plenty of encouragement from family and friends later (including Lindsey Murphy, aka Crazy Aunt Lindsey, the beloved Portland-based star of her own kid+science-themed YouTube channel, who helped her name her fledging company): This Juneteenth in Portland, Doyle is planning to formally launch Go Girl Ride, a trauma-informed ride-share service aiming to connect women and non-binary passengers with carefully-screened drivers, who will be paid hourly wages.
Doyle, who works as a human resources manager for houseless advocacy group Join PDX, says she has spent the last few years getting up to speed in the language of entrepreneurship. At her first pitch session in fall of 2019, in front of a panel of Portland luminaries at Ladies Night PDX, she learned to refer to her Powerpoint as a pitch-deck; by the end of the night, she was being “bombarded by business cards,” from local companies who wanted to work with her (including the Oregon Ravens, who are part of the Women’s National Football Conference, who have tapped her to be the team’s official ride-share partner once she’s up and running.)
More stops and starts followed: a trip to Philadelphia, where she pitched to some big-league investors but came up short; a crowd-funding online campaign that took a while to take off. Last fall, Doyle got her biggest break yet, when she was tapped for American Express’s “100 for 100” cohort, a program designed for Black women entrepreneurs, which came with a $25,000 grant, plus three months of start-up supports and scaffolds.
The pandemic put the ride-share industry on ice at first, but demand is increasing along with vaccinations. Doyle spent some of the
pandemic putting together cleverly branded “safety kits” for women and non-binary folks to carry with them when they get into ride shares that she doesn’t run. The kits include a face mask, a kitty ear key chain that doubles (when needed) as a set of brass knuckles, a mini-taser, a seatbelt cutter, pepper spray, and more.
Now, she’s deep in the minutiae of running a start-up, figuring out insurance and licensing issues and interviewing potential drivers. They’ll launch with a fleet of five, who are being screened beyond an off-the-shelf background check. So far, the workforce looks like it will consist entirely of women. Men are welcome to apply, Doyle says, but should know about Go Girl Ride’s core values: “We are an inclusive ride service, centered on the safety of women, femmes and nonbinary folks. We are confident that that is how we will eliminate the bad apples in the bunch.”
In addition to the ride-share model, Doyle’s also planning to partner with local nonprofits after her launch, to drive clients who might be anxious about driving with someone they don’t know, like The Cupcake Girls. Portland is her first city, but her plans are bigger: Ultimately, she says, she’d like to “launch in cities that have high rates of human and sex trafficking. The biggest challenge is figuring out how to scale. As soon as we launch, we will have a problem keeping up with demand. We’ve had an outpouring of inquiries, from local universities and companies, especially as things start to re-open. There is a lot of opportunity out there—we really found a whole niche here.”