A new series of interviews with London's female taxi drivers reveals an industry which is rapidly changing – and not for the better.
Are you ready for some seriously disappointing statistics? It's time to buckle up and step on it; 29% of UK MPs are women. 22% of academic professors in the UK are female. Just 11% of the UK's construction industry is made up of women. Fewer than 10% of executive directors at FTSE 100 companies have two X chromosomes.
So far, so unimpressive; but however shoddy the representation of women in traditionally male-dominated roles and industries may be, these pitiful figures pale in comparison to the measly 2.2% of taxi drivers registered with TfL who are female.
Female taxi drivers, both in London and across the country, are in the extreme minority. This dearth of gender equality flies in the face of the fact that women are statistically safer drivers, frequently lead lifestyles suited to flexible working hours, attract less violence and hostility and typically make passengers feel more comfortable.
With sexual crime in taxis increasing in tandem with the rise of less strictly regulated services like Uber, there's more call than ever before for women to join the profession.
Many women can recount at least one experience of sexual harassment, feeling of vulnerability or instance of discomfort in taxis with men behind the wheel. More female drivers on the roads is one solution to the issue, which could make many passengers, including men, feel more comfortable, safe and secure.
London cabbie Shelley confirms the theory: “I think some men feel a sense of relief when they get into my taxi. I literally had someone thank me for the nice journey and how happy he was that he didn’t have to talk about football and politics for once”, while black cab driver Victoria's experiences mirror those of her colleague: “everyone is a lot less aggressive than they probably would be to a male driver."
These experiences and stories from “life in the 2.2%” come from a new series of interviews with London's female taxi drivers published online by taxi insurer Clegg Gifford. The three fascinating interviews with London black cab veterans Shelley, Stella and Victoria reveal a profession which is uniquely suited to women, despite its heavily male dominated workforce. They also reveal a job which is changing rapidly, edging out both men and women as less experienced, less regulated drivers price traditional cabbies off the roads.
From stories of vomiting celebrity canines and risqué taxi rides, to the income slashes caused by the issuing of PH licenses and the importance of The Knowledge, these three women have a total of 49 years of experience on London's roads, and plenty of insights to share. Insights which include a rather down-heartening look ahead to the future of the female cabbie:
“The job is changing rapidly, more hours need to be worked. The competition is fierce and the traffic has increased due to cycle lanes, road works etc. I am thinking of diversifying, retraining for another occupation. It’s becoming extremely difficult to make a sustainable living and I believe the situation will not improve. There will become even less women 'black cab' drivers as time goes by,” explains Stella.
Increasing levels of competition and cuts to earning potential may be dissuading more women from becoming cab drivers today, but before the advent of Uber et al. the role still failed to attract and welcome women, despite its many potential perks. Safety concerns appear to have been a dissuading factor for many would-be female drivers in the past, while an overall sense of "boy's-clubbery” is likely to have put off many more.
Today, as running TfL's black Hackney cabs becomes less and less lucrative for drivers of all genders, it seems likely that the 2.2% will vanish from the profession before the last of their male colleagues. This series of interviews offers a rare snapshot into a likely fading world of inspiring, boundary-defying women, as they expertly navigate London's roads.
Holly Hartzenberg is a London-based freelance writer at To Your Heart's Content with over five years' experience making all sorts sound stupendous on the web. Away from the keyboard, she can typically be found laughing at an inappropriate volume and eating cheese while frolicking as far and as wide as possible. Find out about To Your Heart's Content at toyourheartscontent.co.uk or follow them on Twitter .
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