Casa Grande entrepreneur launches rideshare service for women | Phoenix New Times

Casa Grande entrepreneur launches rideshare service for women

Sorry, creepy rideshare driver dudes. Alegna serves up women drivers for female passengers in Maricopa and Pinal counties.
Megan Hjelle launched a rideshare service for women with female drivers. Alegna serves Maricopa and Pinal counties.
Megan Hjelle launched a rideshare service for women with female drivers. Alegna serves Maricopa and Pinal counties. Photo courtesy Megan Hjelle
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As a young woman leaving the bars of Old Town Scottsdale late at night, Megan Hjelle had her fair share of uncomfortable rideshare experiences.

She had so many, in fact, that Hjelle eventually stopped using the most popular rideshare apps altogether, opting instead for a conventional cab when she was traveling last year. But the male driver assigned to that trip made her feel unsafe, too.

Fed up, Hjelle set out to create a more comfortable alternative: Alegna, a transportation company for women, by women.

Launched in October 2023, Alegna offers safe rides to women throughout Maricopa and Pinal counties. To schedule a ride, women call Alegna and provide their pickup address and destination. At the designated pickup time, a female driver who has undergone a background check and received CPR, first aid and self-defense certifications pulls up in a 2024 Toyota 4Runner decked out with everything from emergency SOS technology to water bottles for post-night-out rehydration.

"I think all women should get to feel a sense of luxury, like they're queens," Hjelle said.

When Hjelle first launched Alegna, she did so quietly and without much marketing. Those who heard about the service would need to schedule a trip at least 24 hours in advance through Hjelle herself. The result was a smattering of rides that enabled Hjelle to ease into the service as Alegna's main driver.

But in February, Hjelle published a social media post that dramatically boosted her brand's reach. Now, with a full schedule through May and a handful of media appearances under her belt, she's working to add more safe and compassionate drivers to her two-person team.

For those who don't know when they'll need a ride home from a job interview or the bar, Alegna's existing schedule-in-advance model might make the service difficult to use. Calling Alegna for a last-minute trip is out of the question right now.

But it's an asset for women interested in the type of transportation an Uber or Lyft trip can't easily provide. Alegna allows women to schedule tours of Sedona, vineyard hops and other "adventure packages" that aren't feasible with one-and-done rideshare services. For those longer trips, Alegna will even provide an allergy-friendly boxed lunch.

Outside of adventure packages, Hjelle says Alegna's pricing competes with that of conventional transportation options.

"We use the same price metrics as Uber and Lyft and charge by the mile," she said. "Taxes are included, and riders are asked to leave a review rather than tip."

Hjelle's uncomfortable experiences with Uber and Lyft are not uncommon. Though they have the benefit of being household names, both companies face a never-ending battle against safety issues and the reputations they produce.

Drivers become Uber and Lyft contract workers by signing up in the app, agreeing to a background check and taking their vehicles to inspection stations known as hubs. As long as their records are free of egregious offenses — like numerous traffic citations, assaults or DUIs — they're allowed to begin accepting trip requests. Special training related to first aid, road safety or conflict de-escalation is not required.

Combined with their massive reach, Uber and Lyft's open onboarding ramps and impersonal trip-matching algorithms make it tough to avoid the types of safety issues that regularly make headlines.

Both companies say they are constantly working to reduce risk by allowing riders to share their routes with "trusted contacts," removing riders' destinations from drivers' trip logs and — in Lyft's case — allowing women and nonbinary riders to be matched with women and nonbinary drivers. But the payoffs associated with each of these changes are yet to be seen.
click to enlarge Lyft driver and passemger
Phoenix was a testing ground for Lyft's Women+ Connect feature. Women make up nearly half of all Lyft riders but account for just 23% of the company’s drivers.
Day One Agency

Committed to staying small and local

Hjelle, whose career began in social services, aims to help women feel safe both during and outside of Alegna trips. Alegna's website features a handful of resources dedicated to suicide prevention, escaping intimate partner violence, substance abuse assistance and healing after sexual assault. There's even a resource for dealing with road rage — an issue Arizona drivers seem to struggle with.

Because Alegna is just a few months old, Hjelle doesn't expect her service to compete with either of the world's biggest rideshare apps anytime soon. But she is eager to get ahead of the safety game by introducing features that will help her passengers feel more comfortable. Alegna will soon integrate "track my trip" technology to allow passengers' loved ones to keep an eye on their route.

In May or June, Alegna plans to launch a new scheduling platform that accommodates more late-night rides within a shorter period of time. But in terms of moving to a smartphone app with on-demand service, Hjelle is on the fence.

"As successful as this could be, I don't want it to get as big as Uber or Lyft," she said. "I want to keep it local, and I want quality over quantity." For Hjelle, it's more important that female drivers are hand-selected for the Alegna fleet, not brought on through the kind of hands-off signup process typical for mainstream rideshare apps.

"My passion for protecting my community and really helping women goes deeper than just the money or revenue I can make here," Hjelle said.
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