Governments across states have been trying to tackle the burning issue of women safety as well as women empowerment, independently, but with little or no success. But when people take it upon them to drive a change in these two sensitive spheres, many are awed. And receiving all the admiration are three men, each in different profession, who are trying to bring change and give assurance to the 'weaker' gender.
Their concept of women operated taxi services address both the crucial aspects. Started by Advocate Surya Mukundaraj, businessman Vinay Chaitanya and a professional, Manjunath Adde, their aim is to create a safe environment for women who travel in and around city, while also empowering women.
"The concept to have a lady chauffeur driven taxi came into our mind during the month of March. We realised that we have women in every field, so why not have taxis run by them. Our first research was to see if anybody else in Bangalore was running the business. We got to know of services operating in Mumbai, Delhi and Pune, who were running from past three to four years. The lack of such services in Bangalore was evident and that’s how Angel City Cabs came into existence," said Surya.
But the going has not been easy. Before streamlining their concept, the team discussed it with a few people to get their views. "Initially we got negative reactions because of the recent attacks on women at every corner of the country. On the other side, we were also determined to bring a change in the society. But we had several questions on our mind, and the foremost was about getting the attention of women to drive a taxi. So we put up flex boards and surprisingly we received about 50 calls per day. We short-listed 25 women and finally zeroed in on eight," explained Surya.
To the team's luck, they could identify an experienced lady driver, who had been driving for six years. "She happens to be the first lady driver who initially started off in a travel company and later joined an NGO. We approached her and told her about the concept. She was only too willing and now acts as the team leader," said Vinay.
After sourcing and mobilising lady drivers, their next challenge was to train them. "We tied up with Kalyani Motors which has a good set up with modern classrooms and they train using theory and practicals using high tech driving simulators. Their classes also include repairing the car. The overall training takes 20 to 25 days," said Surya.
The cab service is all set to go into operation from August before which, they are ensuring all safety measures. "Safety is our first priority. We have GPS system installed in every car. Apart from that we are putting in a system of automatic SMSs, both ways, to ensure safety. We have pepper spray provided in the car and these drivers are also taught techniques of self defence," said the team.
Currently the plan is to rent their service to women passengers only. "We plan to initially permit only lady passengers and ladies accompanying family. We are also planning to come up with a full-fledged website where passengers can make their bookings, online," said Surya.
Ensuring empowerment of these drivers, each lady chauffeur will be paid a monthly salary ranging between `8,000 to `10,000. "Initially we plan to start services between 6 am to 10 pm on shift basis. Depending on the demand, we will extend it to 24 hours," said Vinay.
"We would also want to have our taxis at the Bangalore International Airport prepaid counters, but it will take time. We have also drafted a one-year agreement with the lady chauffeurs to help us stabilise the project," said Vinay.
Surya added, "Our first step is to request the government to sanction these women drivers to drive their car with the yellow board, which usually take a year for approval."
37-year-old Bharathi V has been driving a taxi from 2007. "Its been 6 years. I started working with a travel agency and later joined an NGO before I got associated with Angel City Cabs. I was quite surprised that a developed city like Bangalore did not have women chauffeured taxis. I was glad that finally somebody took the initiative. It is really challenging to be a lady taxi driver but I am sure that it will be a hit among women passengers," she said.
26-year-old Harini Krishna from Vijaynagar is taking her first step into the world of car driving. She said, "I am feeling a sense of achievement and I have my family's support. I can ride a two-wheeler but driving a car will my first experience. I am undergoing rigorous training which will continue for another 20 days," she said.