Following the recent Call Sign special issue on 'Violence in the Cab Place', we'd like to ask women how safe they feel behind the wheel, how they control any situation and if they enjoy the job. If you would like to contribute an article, please send it to Call Sign. We're starting by crossing the Atlantic and asking that question to Barb Kabrick, who drives a cab in Spokane in Washington State. Barb is the President of the Spokane Cab Drivers Association in addition to being a representative of the International Taxi Drivers Safety Council…
I have been a cab driver for three years. My training consisted of riding around for a couple of hours with another driver - the 'trainer'. I didn't feel that this was sufficient, so I rode with a couple of other drivers as well. I didn't have any preconceived ideas of what to expect as a cab driver other than that I expected to be treated politely and I treated my passengers and co-workers the same way.
If a passenger touched me, I slammed on the brakes and demanded an apology. As I recall, it happened twice and both were drunks. The first one I put out on the curb and his trip finished very short. The second arrived at his destination full of remorse. Both times I got my apology and I also got paid for the rides. I do not permit my passengers to be offensive.
When asked about my personal life, I answered briefly and asked the same question of them. For example: “Do you have a family?” “Well, yes I do. How about you?” “Are you married?” “Any children?” “Do you ever shop at K-Mart?” “Where did you get that cool tattoo?”
Whatever... so long as you control the conversation, you don't get the bullshit. People may be interested in you, but they can't resist talking about themselves and before you know it, the ride is over and it's uneventful - and you can learn the most interesting things! When asked for my phone number, I always gave a business card with the dispatch number on it. If they wanted another number and I thought it might be for something other than a cab ride (!!!), I wrote down the number for Crime Check.
I had, in three years, only one passenger that ran without paying me. My twelve hour shift was from 3pm to 3am. Sometimes I also worked Friday or Saturday night 6pm to 6am. I had a man threaten to rob me and a woman pull a knife on me. I also had a passenger slit his wrists in my cab. In every instance, I got paid. I didn't freak out and I didn't go home. I finished my shift and came back the next day.
Harassed and Groped?
I loved driving a cab and I think it can be a good job for a woman as well as a man. Men here in Spokane have – just as I'm sure they have in London - been harassed and groped and offered sex instead of cash for the fare and have been insulted and challenged and demeaned. And many men drivers live alone and have to look forward to the laundry and dishes and housecleaning and shopping and everything else a woman supposedly does. In my experience, it's no tougher to be a woman cab driver. I always thought it was probably easier…
Driving a cab would have never occurred to me as an occupation choice, I started as a dare. There is no 'Knowledge' in Spokane! A friend (ex-fiancé/business partner) stopped by one day to do his 'poor me' thing and was telling me how dangerous and gruelling cab driving was. Long hours, no breaks and danger at every turn, etc etc.
“You could never do it!” he said, “women just don't have the guts, stamina, street smarts, blah, blah, blah..." I said if he could do it, then so could I. He said they were hiring and so I said, “let's go right now!” And that's how it started.... I went down and filled out an application. The owner told me that it was a tough job and could be dangerous, and no, I couldn't work nights! If I encountered sexual harassment from passengers or drivers - which I very likely would - I was an 'independent contractor' so it wouldn't be his problem!
I came back the next day to be 'trained' and as I said earlier, I also rode an hour or two with a couple of other drivers over the weekend and then started on the following Monday.
Oil Changes and Puking!
I was not concerned with crime or violence or long work hours or checking the oil or my kids or where the bathrooms were. I was only concerned about whether or not I would make any money. I was told not to ask anyone what they had taken because no one would tell you the truth anyway! And I found that to be true. According to them, they were all going broke. And if you got on the dispatcher's bad side, well look out - not you London guys at Dial-a-Cab, I hasten to add…!
As it turned out, I loved the job! Every single day I looked forward to going to work and on my days off I called in to see if I could work! I used to call my daughter in Wisconsin and tell her cab stories. I always ended by asking her why she didn't move out to Spokane – it's beautiful here - and drive a cab with me? She thought I was nuts at first, but eventually she quit her very good job and moved here to drive a cab. Guess what? She also loved it! She drove for a year, but started looking for a real job when she got married (to a cab driver) because she needed the benefits that go along with full time employment. They have custody of his two kids and they wanted medical and dental benefits, so one of them needed to get a 'real' job. I guess you guys at Dial-a-Cab don't realise how lucky you are not just to be in a great job, but also one that carries so much respect.
I would have to say that child care and the lack of medical benefits are big concerns that could be keeping women out of cab driving more than any perceived dangerous aspects. I also doubt that it's really the mechanical stuff or cleaning up puke or even the threat of danger. Women who have kids and have been divorced have probably dealt with all that stuff alone before…
Pres. Spokane Cab Drivers Association
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