One night, a little over two years ago, Aisha Addo took a cab ride from downtown Toronto to Mississauga that left her feeling scared. She chose to take a cab home after a late night out with her friend assuming it would be safer and quicker than taking transit.
It was a 35-minute ride and the taxi driver began making polite small talk, asking about her day and what Ms. Addo did for a living. Soon, the conversation took a sharp turn.
“He began asking super personal questions – ‘Do you live alone?,’ asking about my status and began making sexual innuendos,” Ms Addo said. “And when you’re someone that does live alone, it’s uncomfortable.”
The driver made Ms. Addo so unsettled that she put a halt to the conversation by calling a friend and staying on the phone with her until she got home safely. It would have been unsafe to tell the driver to pull over and let her out on the highway.
“[The experience] got me thinking about everyone else, about how it got to a point where we became so comfortable with the idea of getting into a cab where someone might just assault you or someone might make you so uncomfortable,” Ms. Addo said.
She was inspired to create DriveHer, a ride-sharing company that launched in March. DriverHer is driven and managed by women and is aimed at female passengers.
Piggybacking on the disruptive force of Uber and mimicking its business model, DriveHer has 65 female drivers registered and more than 3,000 customers have downloaded and used the DriveHer application, Ms. Addo said.
The company, and others like it, is aimed at addressing a lack of female drivers in the taxicab industry. In light of high-profile sexual assaults by drivers in the news, some dispatchers say women have been requesting female drivers. But Statistics Canada figures show that of 2,520 drivers employed in the taxi, chauffeur and limousine industry between 2011 and 2014, only 55 were women.
Saif Ullah, the current manager at Black Top and Checker Cabs in Vancouver, says that in the eight years he’s been working at the cab company, he has seen only two female drivers. Mr. Ullah says he thinks the gender discrepancy is largely because driving a taxi is not easy; the 12-hour fixed schedule is gruelling, and this coupled with night shifts serving drunk and belligerent customers can make taxi driving an unattractive option for women.
But Shelley Evans, who worked as a dispatcher for 21 years for a Victoria cab company, said the need for more parity is clear: During her time as a dispatcher, she said she got several calls from women requesting female drivers.
“A lot of women called in. They were working late at night, and they would often ask for a female driver,” said Ms. Evans, who is partnering with Tammy Hogg to launch an all-female-run cab company called Women on Wheels (WOW), based out of Sooke.
The venture is slated to be running by the end of October, 2019. WOW would be the first all-female driver and dispatcher company in B.C.
Despite the challenges, the job pays well.
Gurdeep Prahar says she can earn anywhere from $3,700 to $4,000 a month after taxes. Ms. Prahar, one of only two female cab drivers at Delta Surrey Green Cabs, has been driving for the past six years, a job she took to support her now 19-year-old son and her mother after fleeing an abusive marriage.
She said driving has afforded her financial autonomy.
The advent of ride-hailing services such as Lyft and Uber – neither of which will be legal in B.C. for at least another year – have allowed women to make inroads. Uber estimates that approximately 27 per cent to 28 per cent of Uber drivers in Canada are females.
Esther Nerling has been driving for Uber since its inception in Toronto in September, 2014, which makes her one of the longest-serving female Uber drivers in the city.
Ms. Nerling said she’s not entirely sure why the taxi industry, as well as Uber, is so male dominated, even though she agrees it’s come a long way in terms of the gender gap since she started working.
She estimates she has had 28,000 people in her car so far, and hasn’t felt unsafe even once in the years she’s worked for Uber. She attributes part of it to the ability of ride-sharing companies to collect data about their customers and drivers. Ms. Nerling said she takes comfort in the fact that her customers are all registered guests with their own customer ratings on the Uber app.
This means she has the freedom to choose whether she wants to pick up someone based on the customer’s rating.
“There have to be more females who make this a subject matter that needs to be discussed. And there need to be more females like me who have no problem discussing it. We have to show them our passion, that we can be successful. We have to lead the way,” Ms. Nerling says.