Male taxi drivers of Indian heritage far exceed the number of female taxi drivers from the same cultural background. But Simerdeep Kaur turned her keen interest in driving into a profession and is now driving away gender stereotypes one trip at a time.
While women are still a minority in the taxi industry, their number has increased during the past couple of years.
With the rise of rideshare companies, such as Uber and Ola, an increasing numbers of female taxi drivers are opting for this profession. But there’re not many women in taxi services.
There’re multiple reasons for this gender disparity, but one major reason is the ‘challenging’ environment taxi drivers are required to work in.
Indian migrant Simerdeep Kaur works for 13cabs taxi services in Melbourne’s southeast.
While talking about the challenges, Ms Kaur says safety was the first thing that came to her mind when she first opted to drive about a year ago.
“Working late night shifts can be daunting and like any other woman, I’d also refrain from it,” she said.
“I have heard so many scary stories from my family members who also drive taxis. Most of the bad behaviour, thefts, assaults happen at night. So I decided to opt for a maxi taxi to provide services in the daytime.
Ms Kaur says she finally managed to overcome these fears. She says it helped her break the stereotypes associated with professional driving and women in the Punjabi community.
“There is a perception within the community that women can’t be good drivers. But I took the challenge to prove it wrong,” she said.
“Initially, I was a bit sceptical about my abilities to drive. But I guess you gain confidence once you start doing things that you’re once afraid to do."
Ms Kaur said she was keen to overcome the gender bias within the community.
“Well, most of them [members of the Punjabi community] are supportive but there’re a few who can’t believe that it’s happening. Once a passenger said 'I won’t feel safe sitting next to a female taxi driver', she told SBS Punjabi.
“Within the community you hear numerous jokes and derogatory things regarding women behind the steering wheels.
“But shouldn't I be worried when my customers are happy, and I am confident of providing them good professional service."
Ms Kaur said her family members, five of whom are taxi drivers, have been very supportive of her career choice.
“My husband has been very supportive throughout this journey. He often shares his valuable experience from the taxi industry,” she said.
Her clients include many elderly and disabled passengers.
“I just love it… It’s a very rewarding experience. I never felt like I am on job as many of my customers are like a family now.”
“My taxi is my office. It’s a flexible job where I can plan my day ahead that suits my needs as a professional and as a busy mother.
Ms Kaur says she didn't know how to drive when she first arrived in Australia.
“Driving at a professional level is not a female thing in India. But I always had an interest in doing something which others say you can’t,” she said.
She is urging more women to consider getting behind the wheel and breaking stereotypes.
“I’d like to encourage female taxi drivers to join this challenging yet rewarding experience.”
A spokesperson for 13cabs in Melbourne told SBS that gender disparity has always been a major issue within the taxi industry.
“We’ve more than 10,000 registered taxi drivers but having female taxi drivers is a rare sight,” he says.
“The ratio is very low. It’s hard to put in numbers but I suspect that there could be less than 100 female drivers who are actively pursuing this career.
“But we’re glad that it’s picking up now with many female drivers opting for day shifts, office pickups and helping elderly and disabled customers using maxi taxis.