‘Female drivers are no good! Always causing the accidents,’ growled our driver, glaring over his shoulder as he swerved between lanes, carved up the car driving beside us and took the next corner like Lewis Hamilton wearing a blindfold. He was talking to our male friend, of course, who nodded uncertainly.
This was our first taxi ride in Abu Dhabi, and it uncomfortably set the tone for the rest of our journeys on the perilous roads of the capital. Practically everyone we know in Abu Dhabi has turned up to a gathering at some point, white-knuckled and spewing a furious anecdote that starts: ‘You won’t believe what my taxi driver just did!’ Cue tales of near-death experiences on the Corniche, road rage on the roundabouts or fist-shakingly bad behaviour in the car parks. Our first taxi driver may have been adamant that feckless members of the fairer sex are solely to blame for chaos on the roads, but the rest of the city, it seems, thinks differently.
Enter the female fleet. You may have seen these drivers breezing round town in silver and pink taxis, featuring floral designs on the doors and bold neon signs with ‘Ladies Taxi’ emblazoned on the top. Launched earlier this year, the cabs are there primarily for women who feel uncomfortable travelling alone with a male driver, or who just feel safer with a woman at the wheel. Men can travel in these taxis if they are with their families, but are not allowed to hail them if they are travelling alone.
There are just 10 pink taxis operating for Trans AD in Abu Dhabi at the moment, available either to book or to flag down, for the same cost as ordinary cabs. Shamsha Kaliyanad, from India, is an experienced member of the fleet. A former limousine driver, she has been driving with the Trans AD company for over five years, and has lived in Abu Dhabi for over 12, so she knows the roads like the back of her hand. Bubbly and unflappable, we can’t imagine anyone better equipped to deal with the city’s terrible traffic.
Tell us about the job, Shamsha.
I like the job very much, and haven’t had a single accident or problem the whole time I’ve been doing it. Many of my customers know me and take my number to call me back again because they know I’m a good driver.
What do they like about your service?
They don’t want any problems. They want a nice clean car and no more fast driving! I’m a very careful driver. Lots of ladies like to talk, so I chat to my customers too. I have lots of nice customers, but I couldn’t choose a favourite. I think they are all the best.
Who would you say are your most frequent customers?
I often drive local Arabic women. When I’m not available, if [our operators] offer them a male driver, they say, ‘I don’t need a man, I need a lady!’ They always say I should tell my company we need more female drivers.
What happens if a cheeky gent tries to hail your taxi?
I’ll stop and explain to him that he’s not allowed in, because this car is just for the women. He can only ride in it if he is with his wife and family.
And finally, the million dirham question – are men or women better drivers?
The ladies are much more careful. There should be more of them, for safer roads. Yes, ladies are better!
To book a pink ladies taxi, call 600 535353.