If you are a woman calling for a cab at night, you might wish another woman was driving you home. A few cab service aggregators in Bengaluru seem to have taken note of this and Rozi to Roti (R2R) has launched an exclusive women-for-women cab service.
The brainchild of Major (retd.) Shailandra Singh, R2R aims at empowering women, especially from humble backgrounds. Women from Bengaluru and other parts of Karnataka are taught how to drive and hired after they get a commercial driver’s license. R2R strives for the safety of both the driver and passenger.
“We have a GPS-enabled tracking system, a camera and a panic button in each car,” says Singh, who has worked in the IT sector for over a decade. “Our drivers are equipped with a safety hammer and pepper spray. Our cabs ply from 7 am to 9 pm. We started with the last drop at 7 pm and slowly pushed it to 9 pm. The timings are flexible.” Every cab also has a fire extinguisher, a woman-centric first-aid kit, water bottles and free WiFi.
“If I go for a night pick-up or drop, one of my colleagues accompanies me because my bosses feel that my safety is important,” says Sharanya M, the youngest driver at 21. She has a year of driving experience with Uber, which she quit as she was asked to ferry male passengers at night. “I love driving,” she says.
Soft-skills make up an essential part of the training package; how to behave with their corporate-only clientele included. “The trainers tell us that we should listen and respond to customers only if they speak to us. If they are speaking to someone else, all our attention should be on the road. We speak only in English or Hindi,” she says, as she navigates through city traffic.
Building up this level of trust and respect was no easy task, says Singh. “We were offering to do so much for free that people wondered about our intentions. We have married women on board and if their husbands agree to send them to an unknown city, we must have made an impression somehow. Understanding the lives of these people is crucial. Most of them have hardly stepped out of the house.” The drivers have free board and lodging provided by R2R above its office and are paid a stipend after they get their driving licence.
Before the cabs were acquired, one of the women used to drive Singh’s car. “As time passed, she began driving my family around. And now she has the confidence to take other passengers too,” he says.
Singh says that he studied 70-80 cab companies in different cities before starting out late last year. All the cabs belong to the company as he doesn’t “want to burden the drivers with EMIs”.
Singh invested `2.5 crore initially and plans to expand to three cities. Charges for the cab service is a minimum billing of `100 for the first 5 km. R2R’s fleet comprise 15 Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzires (diesel) and 30 female drivers; 45 more are still being trained.
Kavitha B N, from Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, from where the first set of potential cabbies were recruited, recalls how she would often look on from the passenger seat when other family members drove. “I wanted to be behind the wheel, but I hardly imagined my wish would come true,” she says. Arathi Y M from Chintamani, Chikkaballapur district, who is still training, chanced upon the prospective job through an acquaintance. “My family agreed and I took it up.”
He and his team are on the lookout for more women drivers. “It defeats the purpose of empowerment if we look at only the underprivileged. A software engineer and a journalist wanted to work with us just for the love of driving or a new career option. But they are bound by other contracts, and we are trying to find a way around it,” he says.