Taxi Noir: Equal Opportunities
Cab driving in London is one of the most democratic occupations known to man. How many other occupations allow you to start training with no qualifications, and then offer a job for life? You’re not asked to provide a CV or your academic record when you apply for a London taxi licence. The only entry requirements are a good brain and above-average staying power. It’s not about who you know, it’s about what you know. It doesn’t help if you know the Knowledge examiners, and your parents can’t arrange an internship through a friend of a friend, or through a chum from the golf club. Men and women of all backgrounds are on an equal footing, whether you start the Knowledge with a degree under your belt, or whether you earned a dishonourable discharge from a sink comprehensive.
But when we conjure up an image of a cab driver, it’s usually a man. Maybe it’s a male-centric lack of imagination; or maybe it’s because women make up fewer than 2.5% of the London cab driving community. In the democratic taxi world, that’s a surprisingly low number. In 2019 there were only 519 women amongst 23,301 men with both All London and Suburban licences.
When I started out in 1988 there were fewer female cab drivers, but they are no longer a novelty. Fifteen years ago I was driven by a female cab driver in St Malo in France. It didn’t register as anything unusual at the time, though some time later I realised that there aren’t many female cab drivers anywhere. I’ve only seen one woman driving a cab in Leighton Buzzard where I currently live.
Female cab drivers often say the best thing about the job is the freedom to run their own businesses and to work flexible hours. This is true for all drivers: but why aren’t there more women? I think many are worried about the occupational culture not being welcoming enough to women, but I don’t believe this is true any longer. Not in London anyway. Things are clearly different in some cities: a quick internet browse showed the first female taxi driver wasn’t licensed in Fez, Morocco until 2011. Don’t get me started on Saudi Arabia. Let’s move on.
It’s not a problem with the internal culture of London, but in the working environment over which we have little control. But it’s an intimidating, macho, world out there on the streets of London. Anyone not used to the London driving experience would be intimidated. I always tell friends from abroad that should you attempt to drive in London it’ll be the most stressful thing you’ve ever done.
I respect and admire the women who have taken on the challenge. God bless ‘em. Female cab drivers don’t tend to be shrinking violets, and they are fully prepared to employ a wide armoury of put-downs should any chauvinistic dinosaur tell her she should be at home making her old man’s tea. My advice to any female cab driver wishing to put on a show is to do it loudly and very publicly. Most male drivers are on your side, and a clever put-down will ensure maximum respect and admiration from your audience.