London is bustling with black cabs, uniform in almost everything from their iconic color to the gender of the person driving them. Female cabbies are a rare phenomenon—only 2%—and certainly we, as onlookers, have developed strong gendered ideas about who a London cabbie is. Is there something about the job that means it is particularly suited to men? The female cabbies we interviewed certainly do not think so!
Shelley, a long-serving taxi driver with 18 years of experience, explains that “the job is fun” and she “loves it.” It’s perfect, she tells us, for anyone who wants to experience something new and exciting every day, and for those who love to come home with a good story! Each of our female cabbies was able to name-drop some of the biggest stars in the sport, music, and film industries, including Jude Law, Dame Judy Dench, and George Best, to name but a few. Shelley told us a funny celebrity passenger story: Joss Stone’s new puppy was unwell during one journey, so she made Joss clean her cab—only later realizing who she was!
Being a cabbie, like any job, requires a lot of hard work and studying to be successful. However, studying for the “Knowledge”—in which drivers are tested on their ability to recall driving routes—offers a certain level of flexibility that might not be afforded in other jobs. Shelley took four and a half years, while Stella, who’s been in the trade for 15 years, took just over a year. In fact, each of the women was able to conduct their studies around their personal lives. Similarly, once they’ve passed the Knowledge, the job itself allows cabbies to work when it suits them. Stella explains that she “was able to carry on doing the school runs” because of the flexible hours.
Part of the challenge of being a cabbie is that the learning never stops. Driving around London means you are constantly learning new and interesting parts of the city; and the new developments and roadworks mean you need to be creative and work out new routes.
One thing that we anticipated might deter women from entering the cabbie trade was sexism from customers and male cabbies. However, from our interviews, these women explained that, although they receive the odd questionable comment, they generally get less hassle and hostility than their male counterparts. Victoria, who has been cab driving for 16 years, states, “I think women taxi drivers have less stress than the guys.” Some of her family members are male drivers and have told her stories of the abuse they have encountered. “Everyone is a lot less aggressive than they probably would be to a male driver,” she adds.
Shelley explained that, from the customer’s perspective, many expressed relief to discover their driver was female. One man even told her how happy he was “not to have to talk about football and politics for once.” It seems as though women are respected in this role, meaning their job is comparatively hassle-free. It may not be helpful to speculate, but perhaps this is because passengers feel safer and more trusting toward a woman driver?
Being a female cab driver in London is a challenge, but it appears that it might be no less of a challenge than being a male in the trade—and perhaps it is even an advantage. Being a London cab driver provides flexible hours, interesting stories, great celeb spotting, and, not to mention, the perk of driving in bus lanes. So why should men have all the fun?