While the ambitious ‘She Taxi’ project gears up for a launch on November 19, Athira M. meets the women entrepreneurs-cum-drivers who are behind the wheels of change

Annie Surendran, Jaicy Ramesh and Resiya Beegum are three of the five women who have the drive to open a new path in transportation in Kerala. They are brand ambassadors of the ‘She Taxi’ project, a 24x7 women taxi service for women, to be launched by Gender Park, an autonomous institution under the Department of Social Justice, Government of Kerala, on November 19 in the capital city.

The unassuming trio will kick-start the pilot phase of the project, which has been pegged as an ‘entrepreneurship-driven model to improve responsible service’.

Annie, we find, is the first woman autorickshaw driver in Kerala. A native of Thrissur, the 59-year-old drives all kinds of vehicles, including a lorry! “I got my licence in 1973 and three years later qualified for a heavy vehicle licence too. It was my uncle who encouraged me to learn driving after I stopped my studies in class nine,” says Annie, who has been living in the city for the last 34 years. She is now a freelance driver and teaches driving too. “Today, my children are well-settled and my husband is happy with this decision of mine,” she says adjusting her spectacles.

Jaicy, who is 51, has been a beautician for the last 15 years. “I learnt driving 20 years ago. It was my son, Swaraj, who suggested that I should be part of the project. He runs a luxury travel business in Dubai and told me about similar initiatives there,” says Jaicy.

Resiya, who appears to be the most reticent of the three, was the one who surprised us with her resolve. Once the project is implemented, she will be shuttling between her home in Kollam and the city every day! “It’ll be fine…,” she says. “My husband, Noushad, used to be a driver and he always encouraged me to learn driving. I’m a homemaker and used to earn money as a freelance driver, regularly taking my relatives or friends for long distance trips,” says Resiya, who has a daughter and two sons. “They will manage,” she says with a smile.

When advertisements were placed inviting applications from women drivers, Gender Park officials were overwhelmed by the response. “We got enquiries from women who have not learnt driving, but wanted to be part of it. We selected the first batch on the basis of their experience, confidence and driving,” says Ijas Khan K. R., head (project), Gender Park. Besides polishing their driving skills, before the project is implemented, the women will undergo training in self-defence and also take part in personal grooming and confidence building sessions.

Says Jaicy: “I am extremely happy that the Government is doing something to ensure women’s safety and empowerment and that I’m part of that initiative. I know there will be challenges in the beginning, especially from other drivers on the road, but we are used to it. It is also a relief that the authorities have worked in our personal safety into the plan.” Annie, meanwhile, is over the moon that she will now have a vehicle of her own and Resiya is enjoying the prospect of turning entrepreneur and earning.

Initially, 25 taxis will be rolled out and depending on the response, 75 more are set to be introduced before the project is expanded to other parts of the state.

In Top Gear

* “Though Mumbai and a few countries in the Middle East have ‘she taxis’, there the owner and driver are two different people. Here, the scenario is different. Once they get the cabs, they will have to repay the amount in six years at a reduced rate of interest. This concept would eventually change our outlook towards drivers as a whole. The department, especially our Minister [M.K. Muneer] is leaving no stone unturned for the success of the project,” says P.T. Mohammed Sunish, special officer, Gender Park.

* Maruti Suzuki, which is providing the vehicles, is also training the drivers free of cost and will be rating their performance. The ratings, which will be displayed in the cab, will be updated from time to time. The first batch of drivers have opted for Maruti Dzire.

* Fleet management service and GPRS-based tracking and safety services are provided by Technopark-based Rain Concert Technologies. Besides a 24x7 call centre, there would be a 24x7 control room to attend any kind of emergency. “We are also working on innovative revenue generation models. We’ve already got a great response for placing advertisements on the exterior of the cab. The government has exempted the ‘she taxis’ from paying tax on advertisements. We are looking at marketing every space available inside the cab, be it providing information about tourist spots, information about shopping deals and so on… A part of the revenue will eventually go to the owner-cum-driver,” says Abhilash R., CEO of Rain Concert Technologies. “Technopark has already evinced interest in making use of the services,” he adds.

* ‘She Taxis’, painted pink and white, will charge standard rates. The drivers have 22 working days. Actress Manju Warrier is the goodwill ambassador of the project.