The taxi business is tough work, but especially if you’re a woman, says Scarborough cab driver Fawzia Karim.
Denied work, criticized by bank lenders and stared down by her customers — she’s experienced firsthand an uphill battle as a female cab driver. But after starting her taxi business a month ago, 41-year-old Karim is now speaking out.
“I don’t know why people stare at me when I’m driving a taxi,” Karim said. “If ladies can drive a school bus, plane, train, TTC — everything — they don’t look at them. So why is it that I am sitting in the front of the taxi and they are really surprised to see me?”
While it’s common to see female drivers in her native Southeast Asia, the same doesn’t hold true for Canada.
When she started her business, employers repeatedly told her they had no work for her, although job ads were rampant in the newspaper. Meanwhile, lenders criticized her, saying she was irresponsible. One said her daughter would have a difficult time getting married if her mother were a cab driver.
Beck Taxi, one of the largest taxi companies in Toronto, says the reason for such a low number of female drivers in the city is safety issues.
“It’s a dangerous job and I don’t think women think of it as an option for them,” said manager Christine Hubbard.
In Canada, only eight per cent of taxi drivers are female, according to a 2009 census. In Toronto, there is only five per cent, according to the city’s Municipal Licensing and Standards Division.
Police reports show male cab drivers — not female — are the victims in robberies, attacks and murders. This is perhaps due to the low number of female drivers in the first place, but also because female drivers stick to the day shifts, Karim said.
Despite this, female cab drivers are not a liability, Hubbard said, but a benefit to the taxi business.
“The two female drivers we have are some of our best drivers.”
Karim, who watches the road like a hawk and follows every rule in the book, said she cares for her passengers.
Recently, she picked up a 65-year-old woman who was carrying many grocery bags and had been refused by several male cab drivers just because she had only a few blocks to go.
“As a mother, I feel bad when I see these people and I want to help them,” said, Karim, sole parent of two kids. “Sometimes I don’t even worry about money. I know I need the money, but I rather help them, and maybe God will help me one day.”