The taxi business has been considered over the years as a job reserved for men. The thought does not necessarily stream from gender inequality issues but the nature of the job.
Kenya is among the countries that allow women to explore male-dominated fields. The transport business is a good example where we now have many female conductors.
However, women have kept off the taxi business for a long time. Public transport vehicles offer rides to many people to known destinations.
Taxi rides are different. Drivers pick random strangers who sometimes go to deserted destinations.
Let us not talk about the number of cases of cab drivers that are reported dead every other week. The risks involved have seen female drivers take a back seat.
Reports now indicate that women are changing their minds as ride-hailing apps are expanding their reach in the market.
The introduction of taxi apps in Kenya
Mobile apps have revolutionised the taxi business in less than 5 years. Prior to 2014, Kenyans were relying on privately owned taxis as an alternative to public transport.
The main challenge with these taxis was pricing. Cab drivers could fix any price depending on the distance and time of day.
Sometimes you had to talk to several drivers before getting an affordable ride. Another challenge was getting a readily-available taxi in times of emergencies.
Taxi apps in Kenya came in amidst resistance and changed the business. The major apps that dominate the market include Little Cab, Uber, Mondo, and Taxify.
Some taxi apps are designed for specific towns. For instance, Wasili operates in Eldoret and its environs.
The competition among the app owners has led to affordable rides. For instance, Uber Kenya introduced the Uber Chap Chap whose rates are lower than the main network.
Taxify differentiates its taxis with lower charges for the same distance.
Are female drivers safer now?
The taxi apps do not eliminate the risks involved in the taxi business. The government bears the responsibility of identifying and prosecuting criminals that target cab drivers.
However, the taxi networks now allow passengers to choose between female and male drivers.
Safaricom-owned Little Cab is one such network. The network has more than 500 female drivers.
Mondo launched in the same year as Little Cab and registered 200 women drivers.
Female passengers may feel safer when riding under a female-driver. However, the ability for passengers to choose a driver does not keep female drivers safe.
The taxi apps owners realise the dangers that cab drivers face, whether male or female. Consequently, the operators give drivers safety feature to enable them to raise alarm in case they feel unsafe.
Such safety features have been attracting women to this job. Drivers can raise an alarm at any time of the ride, especially when dropping off passengers.
Most crimes occur at the drop off point where perpetrators take off with the car.
Another advantage of using taxi apps is the GPS network, which enables operators to view the exact location of drivers when they raise an alarm.
Harsh economic times
The state of the Kenyan economy leaves women with fewer choices than before. A declining economic growth rate means that companies have fewer employment opportunities.
Business owners have been complaining of a decline in sales. The government for the longest time has pushed women to start businesses with women empowerment funds.
What happens to women who cannot run successful businesses but have families to feed?
Though qualified for better jobs, women are exploring unorthodox means of earning such as offering taxi rides.
The benefit of having several reliable networks in the country is that drivers can register in more than one network.
Female drivers can register in several networks to ensure that they have riders all day. The drivers can also go off the networks at night.
It will take some time before we can close the gender gap in employment. Women earn significantly lower salaries than men do on average.
Gender inequality issues are not Kenyan but global issues. Unfortunately, the harsh economic times do not allow women to wait for the government to deal with the issue.
Taxi hailing offers the alternative for women to earn a decent livelihood despite the risks involved.
Breaking the glass ceiling
Many times people wait for trailblazers to explore unchartered waters before making a move. The inclusion of women in public transports systems in Kenya including truck drivers started with one womaan.
As women watched the first beat all odds, they were inspired to do the same. Kenya is experiencing the same trend with female cab drivers.
As the drivers come to the spotlight not only in the country but also around the world, more women are joining the business.
We can only expect an increase in the number of female drivers, especially as new apps are introduced in the market.
The inclusion of women in such a male-dominated field is a good example of the benefits of embracing technology.
Women shied away from this business for a long time until mobile apps were introduced in the Kenyan market.
What more can mobile solutions offer in the market? App developers in Kenya should take the challenge to keep exploring and creating new app categories.
Bus-hailing apps are another example of the transformation that apps offer. Unlike taxi apps, passengers book a bus ride alongside other travellers in the same route.
Do we need to talk about the evolution of e-commerce in Kenya since apps came into the scene? You can shop for anything and everything via an app and it will be delivered to your doorstep.
Think about the job opportunities and businesses that e-commerce apps and websites have created in the country in just a few years.
The transformation will continue in the coming years because Kenyans have proved their interest in fast business solutions. Aspiring developers can participate in this transformation by honing their skills.
Developers also need a keen eye to see opportunities in the market such as unmet needs that apps can solve easily. Kwetu Hub offers such training to aspiring programmers to equip them with skills fit for the evolving market.