New York is getting its first women-only taxi service this week. Female customers can now use an app to hire a taxi driven by a female. In New York City the taxis are called SheRides in other cities they use the name SheTaxi. Their drivers will have – very original – pink pashminas.
In India we’re familiar with the women-only travel concept. We have female only taxis, separate ladies compartments on trains and the metro. On government busses the first rows of seats are reserved for women. For me it works well, I find traveling this way comfortable. Because we have more men out on the streets in India the general sections on the trains are extremely over crowed almost every hour of the day. For me choosing to ride in the women’s compartment isn’t always about being scared to get groped by a guy, but more about making sure that I get a seat.
But I often wonder if always traveling in women’s compartments has made me more apprehensive of interacting with men when I travel. When you travel on a long distance train for example there is no women-only option. So you might find yourself on a sleeper bed with above and below you a snoring old man. I believe in equality between the sexes and although it gets me a seat, shouldn’t I be against separating men and women?
Last week I visited an NGO that runs a female only taxi service in New Delhi called Sakha Cabs ( Sakha means companion in Hindi) . Delhi is known to be an unsafe place for women especially after dark. In December 2012 a young woman was raped by a group of men on a bus in the city and died a few days later. Ever since women-only taxis have become more popular. Sakha however has been running this service since 2008.
The program manager of Sakha Cabs, Nayantara Janardhan, told me more about the vision behind this for-profit project.
“We believe that by bringing more women into public transport we are going to encourage more women to use that public transport and be out there. And this is going to have a domino effect. We hope that in time there will be equally as many as men out in the street at these odd times. So eventually it is going to make the city a more inclusive a safer space for women who are normally the most vulnerable part of society”
Taxi and rickshaw driving is such a male dominated profession in India that the foundation behind the Sakha Cabs project, Azad, had to find a way to slowly penetrate the market. In the future they hope that women will be able to drive government busses, work as train conductors and as drivers of fleet taxis. From being a specialized service they want women to fully integrate in every part of public transport.They see women-only transport as a temporarily solution, a step towards a more inclusive society.
Why New York?
New York sadly seems to have it the other way around. I read that women often don’t feel safe in a male driven cab in New York either. But why is the solution to that problem excluding women from the normal fleet taxis? Wouldn’t it be better to bring more women drivers in to the fleet and make sure male employees behave themselves? Can we now say when a woman feels unsafe in a taxi ‘Well you should’ve chosen a female taxi service, you took a risk using a public service it’s your own fault??’
Women-only transport works in India because here a majority of society prefers women to stay at home. We have parents that prefer sons to daughters; sadly this has created a huge surplus of men. Quite often I will look around when I’m out and about in Mumbai and find that I’m the only woman there. In New York this is not the case.
I honestly believe that India has a problem with women’s safety today, because children from a young age are raised as such different human beings. Boy are allowed to play outside, girl should help their mother at home. Men and woman hardly learn how to interact naturally with each other. Separate travel is an extension of that natural taught separation.
I can’t remember ever feeling like I’m the only woman in the world back home, in the Netherlands. As far as I know the USA doesn’t have a skewered sex ratio either. We are used to seeing women on the street, please lets keep it that way.
Are you planning to visit Delhi and after reading this blog you are interested in getting a ride with Sakha Cabs? Call this number +91 9991 93004 at least a day in advanced and book your ride. They also have drivers available in Jaipur and soon Kolkata.
Please do let me know what you think of the amazing women that work for this service. Or if you want to share a train travel story, leave a comment below.