While women taxi drivers are a rare sight on our city roads, PickMe, Sri Lanka’s latest solution to hailing taxis through one’s mobile device, has taken the initiative to create job opportunities for women in this novel area. Whilst more and more women are beginning to get interested in the profession based on the inquiries received by PickMe, the Company has managed to engage the services of approximately 12 – 15 women drivers who mostly drive mini cars or Sedans.
However, 33-year-old Lasanda Deepthi, proud driver of a tuk-tuk, is an exception to this rule. A mother with one school-going child, Deepthi has found that PickMe provides her with the ideal opportunity to make a living whilst multi tasking as a mother and housewife.
“I have enough time to drop my daughter at school and ferry her to her respective classes; and I run hires in my three-wheeler during my spare time and so I can make some money on the side to make ends meet.”
Whilst there is some stigma attached to women taxi drivers, particularly due to the fact that they are exposed to various situations and dangers when driving alone and picking up passengers, the PickMe system offers them a certain security which would help overcome this. This was hitherto unavailable to women who might have aspired to this profession, and with such measures in place, PickMe hopes to make a significant increase in their growing number of women drivers.
PickMe ensures a level of accountability for their drivers as well as their passengers through a system where both parties are clearly identifiable since their relevant profiles can be viewed by the PickMe Center, or in passenger’s case, even by a family member through ETA sharing. As for drivers, they are picking up a passenger whose details are officially recorded in the system through their mobile phones — unlike picking up a random person off the streets whose profile is unknown. This creates a level of accountability, for both passenger and driver.
“Initially, I worried about the security aspect in this particular job, but my fears were soon allayed when we went for the training program PickMe insists on. They explained to us clearly, the way they operate and how the passengers’ profiles are registered with them. Apart from that, the PickMe app has a sos button which can be used during an emergency to contact and get help from the nearest police station or the dispatch center.”
Deepthi says she is able to ensure a good balance between work and home. The eight hours she is required to work as a PickMe driver, does not have a specific time frame, so she is able to choose when she wishes to come online. This gives her the opportunity to attend to her daughter’s needs, which, as a mother, she considers very important. Being a very enterprising lady, she also makes ladies’ shoes, a venture she is able handle as she is able to plan her day properly with the flexi work hours PickMe enables.
“Even though I have been very busy with my daughter’s work, I am able to manage all the home affairs as well as set aside time for the committees that I am on, such as the Women’s Society. If I am behind by a couple of hours during the day on the PickMe schedule, I can decide to make up for it in the evening.”
The drivers are provided with a training on etiquette before commencing work as PickMe drivers. Deepthi says that she really valued the lessons she learnt at this training, such as how to play the part of a driver in a manner which is disciplined and respectful. She says they were also give a proper perspective on how to handle issues that might arise related to their work.
“I understood that doing this job with that much discipline gives us a sense of value and that made me want to make certain that I will become the best driver I can be”
Another advantage which PickMe offers, she says, is the rating system which recognizes a driver’s efforts. The app has a feature that allows passengers to indicate their response to the service their driver provides by rating them by giving them as many as five stars. “This encourages us to go above and beyond, to do our best for the passengers” says Deepthi, whose average rating so far is 4.7 of 5.
She also feels empowered because of the difference in the way customers treat her, since as a PickMe driver, she commands respect.
“Respect is very important for me and I feel good; especially since I am female driver, the passengers are very understanding and there have even been occasions when they have advised me on safer roads to take when I respond to a hire, which is great. Many of my passengers have told me that it was their first experience with a female three-wheeler driver. Overall I am very happy with the response I have got so far.”
She also says that the respect they receive working for PickMe stems from the high opinion and perception people seem to have of the Company. “I have to date not heard anyone say anything negative about it,” says Deepthi.