AL AIN // As a regular taxi driver for Q-Link Transportation, Flordeliza Ramos of the Philippines had no restrictions on what sort of passengers she could pick up. But when she was assigned to drive one of Al Ain's first taxis reserved for women, she saw her income cut in half. "Before, I could drive around and pick up anyone, but now when a man flags me on the street I can't stop for him," she said.
The dip in income did not last long. Ms Ramos is one of the 15 female taxi drivers in Al Ain who cater specifically to women and children, and they make an average of Dh12,000 (US$3,300) a month, according to one company's local manager. That compares favourably to the Dh8,000 average for male drivers. Ms Ramos, 31, no longer worries about not making her minimum target. She said she is "getting many personal calls from women so I don't have to drive around all day looking for women customers. When I don't have any calls for personal service I just park and wait at a hospital or supermarket.
"The ladies feel safe with me and I feel safe with them. It's a good system." The "Ladies Taxi" service recently introduced in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain features cars marked by a neon pink sign on the roof and stylish pink swirls on the sides. In January, TransAD, the emirate's taxi regulator, ordered each taxi company to introduce 10 specialised cars in Al Ain by the end of this month. None of the companies has fully complied with the order.
Abdullah al Shamsi, the Al Ain fleet manager for Q-Link, has three ladies taxis in Al Ain and one in Abu Dhabi. He hopes to have 20 pink taxies in Al Ain, eventually. "There is a high demand for this service, especially in Al Ain where families tend to be more traditional," Mr al Shamsi said. "Q-Link recognized the need for lady drivers long ago, as male heads of households and women asked for it."
Zein el Abdine Faraj, the Al Ain manager of Tawasul Transport, said the 15 female taxi drivers in Al Ain bring in half as much again as the Dh8,000 the men there make. He said 20 women drive pink cabs in Abu Dhabi city. For Fatima Halawani, 31, an Egyptian wife and mother, the new service in Al Ain is a blessing. Although she drives, her family owns only one car which her husband takes to work everyday. Sometimes he also works the night shift as a nurse.
"Many times I have had problems with male taxi drivers looking at me in the mirror or talking to me, asking inappropriate questions," Mrs Halawani said. "I complained to my husband many times about them and for a while he wouldn't let me take taxis until I met a woman taxi driver. I called her when I needed a taxi but she wasn't always available for me. "But now with the ladies taxi service, there is always a woman driver available. This is a good service that has made my life so much easier."