x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Women taxi drivers to join the ranks

Female drivers are recruited to respond to customer demand that could change the way women travel in the city.

Arlene Tan, one of Abu Dhabi's few female taxi drivers, behind the wheel of her car.
Arlene Tan, one of Abu Dhabi's few female taxi drivers, behind the wheel of her car.

ABU DHABI // Taxi companies are recruiting female drivers in response to customer demand that could change the way women travel around the city. Companies say many customers request female drivers, while hotels often prefer women as chauffeurs for their limousines. Nael al Fakih, the sales and marketing manager for Al Ghazal Taxis, said the company had recently hired 15 women to drive the company's new silver taxis and was recruiting more. It already had about 70 women as limousine drivers.

"There is a demand from both hotels and the public for us to employ lady drivers," he said. "Females are much more comfortable travelling with another female, especially if they are with their family or the husband is not there. "I think it is extremely fair. The ordinary family feels more comfortable with a woman, partly because of the heritage and customs of the area. We are trying to get more female drivers and as soon as we can get new applications we will look at them."

Mona Ali, 20, a Somalian nursing student, said: "It is very dangerous, especially for girls, to ride a taxi at night or take it for a long ride." She would, she said, feel more comfortable and secure with a female driver. "Also, I think women drive better than men and in our religion it is better to be with a woman rather than a man." According to a report by the Department of Planning and Economy (DPE), there are 8,741 taxis in Abu Dhabi emirate, but only a handful are driven by women.

Mr Fakih said another 2,500 cars had been introduced in Abu Dhabi, with 7,500 more scheduled to be in operation by the end of June 2009. The seven silver taxi operators are recruiting drivers from Pakistan, India, Egypt, Syria, Bangladesh and Jordan. A spokesman for Tawasul taxis said they had recently hired their first female drivers and others were in training. National Taxis said it did not have any female drivers in employment or in training, but added: "We do want to hire female drivers. We are getting a lot of people asking for female drivers these days - families often say they prefer women."

Yousuf Hussain, the operations and fleet manager for Cars Taxi, said: "Right now, we don't have any female drivers but, inshallah, in the future we will. "This is an Arab nation and, considering the traditions here, women do not want to be alone with unknown men. On that basis, we want to put female drivers out on the roads." Mr Hussain said the company was likely to recruit up to 20 female drivers by next June.

Most of the female drivers already hired come from the Philippines, including Arlene Tan, who became a taxi and limousine driver for Al Ghazal after working as a family's personal driver in Al Ain. It was, she said, not only Emirati women who preferred not to be driven by a man. "Most of the work we get is from families who have requested a female driver," she said. "They feel, especially if they are American, that they can communicate better with a female and they respect us a little bit more.

"It is very comfortable for us too ? the Arab people really respect you. There is a natural respect of the lady here that is different compared to other places I have worked, like Taiwan. "There is such a big difference, more equality." Mr Fakih said Abu Dhabi was "a very modern city. Whether a driver is a man or a woman makes no difference. "Because of the freedom people have here, I think there will be more female drivers.

"I know those running the taxi service have a close interest in supporting the infrastructure in any way they can and want to give both sexes a chance in this profession." One Filipina taxi driver, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "There are a few of us and they are bringing in more. There is going to be a lot on the roads. The women really like it, they like someone they can trust driving them. They feel much more comfortable that they are alone with a woman.

"The male taxi drivers, though? I am not sure. They are afraid that we women taxi drivers will take away all their female passengers. Some of them don't like it at all." In January last year, a fleet of 50 pink taxis was introduced onto Dubai's streets for women only, with families allowed to use the vehicles a month later. Mr Fakih said the scheme was "a good idea" and could work in Abu Dhabi, "but not in a cut-and-paste-it from Dubai way".

@Email:rhughes@thenational.ae