The Pink Taxi

My one night glimpse of Dubai didn’t go as planned.

If you fly Emirates through Dubai, they practically encourage a brief stopover. So why not?

Similar to Las Vegas, Dubai is not a destination I find alluring. But to see with my own eyes a city that in just over a decade has become a world-class tourist destination, with imagination and determination seemingly the only two raw materials more abundant than cement?

I can dedicate a 3pm to 10am overnight stopover to that.

The problem was my flight was delayed several hours out of London, the checked bags took forever to unload, and it was now 8pm and plenty dark. There was no time for a late afternoon stroll at a popular area near the river, or for exploring a grand bazaar at dusk. Resigned to simply transporting to my hotel and calling it a night, I opened the airport doors to humid haze and fell into the incredibly organized taxi line.

A European gentleman stood behind me in line. “Would you like to take a ladies’ taxi?” I turned around and saw he was, indeed, speaking to me. He motioned to the line of cars one island over.

“Sure.” Having no idea what he was talking about, I was intrigued.

I crossed the island and was greeted by a female taxi driver around 30 years old, clad in a pale pink headdress and white headscarf. She carefully lifted and placed my heavy duffel bag in the trunk of her pink-roofed car. She opened the side door behind her drivers seat, and closed it behind me. She turned on the taximeter, which started at Dh25, and we proceeded to my hotel.

“Ladies Taxis,” known as “Pink Taxis” in the Emirates thanks to their distinguishable pink rooftops, fill a market need. They are driven by high-caliber, well-trained female drivers, offering peace of mind to the businesswoman arriving at the Dubai airport late at night, or to the woman traveling across town mid-day with her children.

Launched in 2007, the Dubai fleet now totals about 60 vehicles and 150 female operators. The service runs from 6am to 2am. The women drivers undergo extensive training in practical driving, electronic systems and navigation, safety and customer service. In addition to earning an income, they are provided with healthcare insurance and 30 days of annual leave.

I never got my driver’s name, nor did I get answers to my basic questions like “How long have you been driving a taxi? Do you drive overnight?” My driver just nodded at me through the rearview mirror, as if she didn’t understand my spoken language. But I didn’t mind. She used her directional signals as she changed lanes on the highway. She didn’t speak on her cell phone. I felt like she took her job as the person responsible for safely and efficiently getting me from the airport to my hotel very seriously.

While the idea of taxis driven by women for women has become most prominent in the Middle East where Muslim sensibilities may encourage separation of the sexes, the idea is catching on across the globe. In the past few years, taxis driven by women for women have cropped up in cities ranging from Delhi to Mexico City to Melbourne.

I love the idea of private enterprise coming up with a solution to a public problem. Pink Taxis address gender inequality and discrimination with simple economics– women consumers benefit from increased safety and peace of mind, and women entrepreneurs feel empowered by a paycheck, training and benefits, and a loyal client base. And their husbands, children, and extended family also benefit.

New York is the latest city offering taxis exclusively for women. SheTaxis (SheRides in New York City, as use of the word “taxi” is prohibited) launches September 16. Riders will request transport through an app, and its well-trained drivers will sport hot pink pashmina scarves.

The founder of She Taxis, Stella Mateo, sees her service as one that can lure women to an industry traditionally dominated by men. Only 5% of New York’s 60,000 livery drivers are women. Among 50,000 yellow taxis, only 1% of drivers are female.

A reminder to keep your eyes open– the next developed market idea just might come from success and innovation found in emerging markets.

2 Comments

  1. Henry Cavanna said:

    My guess is the driver was Philippino or South Asian, but it is still a positive.
    Thanks for sharing your travel experiences and insights.

    September 8, 2014
    Reply
  2. Amy Hays said:

    I love the outfits Jodi and how nice to get in a car with a nice woman instead of your typical taxi driver! I know that it was probably started because muslim men didn’t want their wives to ride with men but a neat idea!

    September 8, 2014
    Reply

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