Women Taxi Drivers Set to Revolutionize Transport in Kampala
Rose Dawah relaxing in her special hire taxi.

Women Taxi Drivers Set to Revolutionize Transport in Kampala

As a company policy, for every married woman to be recruited, she must have the consent of the husband.

By Risdel Kasasira
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First published: December 29, 2005

What would prompt a man to park his good car and board a special hire taxi to a tea meeting? Many reasons, you may say. But for an increasing number of men in Kampala city, it is the young women driving taxis that are taking the city by storm.

Or you haven't noticed? If you have been to Garden City, Kamwokya or Entebbe airport, you must have seen the new yellow special hire taxis which are exclusively driven by women in their twenties -- the kind many men always want to associate with.

I was coming from an office on Parliament Avenue when I heard this gentleman asking his friend why he should drive his car for a meeting in Makerere when he could use a taxi and have "the opportunity of a cute babe driving you there."

That may be what is driving men towards the yellow taxis, but for the young ladies who have taken to driving these metered special hire taxis, it is finding a career and conquering a profession that has been and is still male dominated.

Annette Kimbugwe is one of the yellow taxi drivers, Kampala's first metered taxis.

"We are serving people and they are enjoying a taxi service with a difference. Recruiting us ladies as drivers is like introducing a gender balance in the taxi transport sector, which is dominated by men. We are happy about it," Kimbugwe says at Africar Rental (U) Limited, which owns the yellow taxis.

Clad in a smartly ironed navy blue uniform, with her well-kept hair and elite accent, you would think Kimbugwe is an officer in any big company you can think of. Even before she tells of how she is a graduate from Makerere University, you notice the abundant mixture of seriousness, appeal and readiness to serve she exudes.

Kimbugwe says that they (ladies) are changing the special hire taxi business. "For us, when we drive you to your destination, it is not just about a passenger travelling from one destination to another. We give a lot of care and attention to our clients," she says.

"The world has changed and women are now outperforming men in some fields," says Mansur Segona, Financial manager of Africar Rental. By the time of this interview, his company had employed 42 women, referred to as captains.

Segona says that Africar Rental recruits women as drivers because of their careful nature. "They are caring, kind and friendly," he says. He believes the rate of accidents in the city centre would reduce if a majority of the drivers were women. "Ever since we started on 1st November last year, our captains have not been involved in any accident," he says.

According to research done by Africar Rental on Uganda's transport sector, most accidents occur because men drivers do not mind the lives of the passengers and are undisciplined. The research also shows that because many men drivers are rude and unfriendly, passengers do not get the worth of their payments.

"Taxi operators treat passengers in a disrespectful manner, yet customers pay them money on which they depend," the research reveals.

Like Kimbugwe, Esther Nabakoza, a Makerere University graduate of bachelors of education says she enjoys her job because it gives her what she "wants".

"Now we are demonstrating that there are many things women can do the same way as men, or even better," she says of her job.

She believes that the technology with which the yellow taxis are operated has added to the appeal the young ladies are bringing to the special hire taxi business and may explain the ever-increasing numbers of people calling to use their taxis day by day.

Inside the taxi she drives, a meter that reads the mileage is placed on the car's dashboard, and a radio gadget connected to the main monitoring system at the main centre in Kamyokya monitors the location of every car and she can be contacted anytime and directed to where you are in case you want Nabakoza or her fellow females to drive you to your meeting, home or wherever it is you are going.

All you need is to dial 145 (toll free) on any mobile telephone network so long as you are within a radius of 50 kilometres from Kampala city centre.
The captains are stationed at Kamyokya, Garden City, Entebbe airport, Shoprite and whenever a client calls for the services at the main centre in Kamyokya, the person operating the switchboard connects the client to the nearest driver through the radio communication. You can imagine why ladies are turning up everyday to become drivers.

When we visited their offices in Kamwokya, one of the new recruits, Amina Nakito who was still undergoing training on how to use the radio communication equipment, says she can't wait to be deployed in the field to serve customers.

Being young and good looking ladies, these female drivers have received as much positive and negative attention-especially from the customers they attract, mostly men.

Apart from outright propositions, many of the female drivers have, on several occasions, been given free offers like diners or lunch from clients as a way to win their affection.

"I can get like five free lunch offers in a day. But carefully, without an insulting 'no,'
I turn the offers down," reveals Nabakoza.

And do the ladies love the attention from men? "Most male clients look mesmerized when they find it is a female taking care of the steering,' Nabakoza says with relish.

The lady drivers Ultimate Media talked to all believe their driving job is a profession, which they hope to continue doing even in the future.

And as we found out, it doesn't matter whether the ladies are married or not. Many of the 'captains' are actually married with children and say they have managed to find a divide between domestic demands and the job because their husbands have consented to and understand the needs of their job.

As a company policy, for every married woman to be recruited, she must have the consent of the husband. Segona says some husbands cannot imagine their wives driving taxis. One woman was recruited when the husband was not aware of the nature of the job she was going to do, only to see her driving the yellow taxi.

"He could not believe his eyes and the next day she had to resign because of the pressure from the husband. So these days we have to ask whether you are married and whether the husband is aware of what you are going to do," says Segona.

No doubt the new drivers are turning heads left, right and centre, but many acknowledge driving special hire taxis is a challenging line of work.

Kimbugwe says working from 8 AM to 8 PM is tiring and she always returns home tired. But she is happy that the management of the taxi company is sensitive to women. They work during the day and men work during night.

The payment at the end of the month is good: 400,000 shillings.
Three of the ladies talked to mentioned it as their main attraction to driving taxis.

In an era when jobs are few and women are still struggling to find equal-paying jobs to their male counterparts, driving special hire taxis seems to be a godsend for these women. They can drive clients; drive to the bank, and why not, some to men's hearts. And life can never be better. "After all, we are not complaining," says one of them.

By Risdel Kasasira
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First published: December 29, 2005
To learn more about Ultimate Media Consult go to www.ultimatemediaconsult.com.

Risdel Kasasira is a graduate Journalist who reports for Ultimate Media Consult. He has worked for The Daily Monitor, Radio Uganda and has done several communication related consultancies. He is also the Research Executive at Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd.