Taxi drivers

With data from 13cabs showing female taxi drivers are in high demand, could women help fill the taxi driver shortage?

Over the Easter long weekend, the wait time for a taxi from Townsville airport was over an hour.

There are 132 licensed taxi drivers in the town of 200,000 and Townsville Taxis manager Darren Morse says that’s about 80 drivers too many.

“The hardest part we’re facing right now is…finding available drivers to put in these cars,” he said.

“And they’re drivers for the day shift, drivers for the night shift, and drivers who can just fill those shifts when [they] need time off.”

Mr Morse said the company had tried to boost the numbers through newspaper and radio advertising and by targeting university students and retirees looking for flexible work.

But calls went unanswered and with the peak tourism period weeks away, Mr Morse said wait times would only increase.

But some believe the answer to the driver shortage may be women.

Data from 13cabs shows that more and more people are asking for drivers like Colleen Babao.(ABC North Qld: Rachael Merritt)

Growing demand

Queensland’s largest taxi company, 13cabs, estimates that only 11% of drivers are women.

Data from the company’s app shows that female drivers are increasingly preferred.

Townsville driver Colleen Babao says she found herself answering the same question from passengers over and over again.

“They are very convinced that there are security problems [for me] “I get asked about it all the time,” Ms. Babao said.

With over 20 years of experience in the region, Ms Babao said she believes there is a misconception when it comes to women’s safety.

She said fear of being assaulted or harassed can deter women from entering the profession.

“I think that’s the heart of the problem,” Ms Babao said.

“They [passengers] express this very deep concern of ‘be careful’, because they think it’s something that happens all the time.

“I just think the word needs to get out – we can debunk the myth, so to speak, change those misperceptions.”

The side of a taxi on a sunny day.
Safety for taxi drivers has improved, but risks remain, according to Taxi Queensland.(ABC North Qld: Rachael Merritt)

‘Trust your instincts’

Taxi Council Queensland chief executive Blair Davies said these concerns needed to be addressed to attract more women to the industry.

“We need to go out and promote taxi driving as a good, safe profession to segments of the community who may not have thought of it before,” he said.

Mr Davies said that since the introduction of security cameras in Queensland taxis in the mid-2000s there had been a reduction in the number of attacks on drivers, but the technology could not completely eliminate the risks.

“Some of the new drugs, things like ice, affect people’s thinking so they don’t worry about getting hurt or the consequences of their actions,” he said.

Ms Babao said drivers could end up in the “wrong place at the wrong time”, but wanted to reassure women that the job should not come with an expectation of compromised safety.

“I wouldn’t work nights if I didn’t feel safe, but something I do is lock doors if you’re in certain areas, especially in town,” she said.

“I would say good advice is to trust your instincts – that’s the best advice I can give anyone.”

A woman sitting in the driver's seat of a red car, smiling.
Shebah driver Felicity Finau says women have told her they’ve had bad experiences with other services.(ABC North Qld: Rachael Merritt)

load sharing

Townsville’s only Shebah driver, Felicity Finau, says she can’t keep up with the demand for her services.

“I have to turn down work because I can’t do it,” she said.

“It is sometimes very difficult, but I do what I can.”

Founded in 2017, the all-female ridesharing service caters to women and unaccompanied minors.

During the 12 months of driving for Shebah, Ms Finau said she had seen the demand for more female drivers in the area increase.

She said flexible working hours made driving an attractive career choice.

“Especially if you’re a young mom who wants to re-enter the workforce,” she said.

“It’s something that can keep you coming back and enjoying – you might not want to go back to your old job.