Leilani Tapang and Maria Socorro Gonzaga.
Dubai - Two lady drivers show they are no different from their male counterparts; they work hard to support their families back home
On the first few days of working as a taxi driver in Dubai, Filipino Maria Socorro Gonzaga said there were times she broke down due to the pressures of her job. Before joining the Dubai Taxi Corporation (DTC), Gonzaga had worked as a driver for Sharjah Taxi Corporation for eight years and was completely unaware of the roads and streets in Dubai.
"This is the advice I give all up and coming female taxi drivers in DTC. During our induction and training, we are all given a map that we tend to ignore when we start driving," said Gonzaga.
To avoid stress and learn the routes, Gonzaga said she stayed awake for several nights in a row and familiarised herself with the map and the roads in Dubai. This is an advice that she imparts to all her new colleagues. "Today I know the streets of Dubai like the back of my hand. I work from 5pm to 5am," she said.
Khaleej Times caught up with the 44-year-old taxi driver Gonzaga, along with 46-year-old Leilani Tapang, and spoke to them on what made lady taxi drivers unique and successful in a predominantly male-dominated work force. There are 100 Ladies and Families taxis in the DTC fleet and a little over 200 female drivers working with the DTC. They undergo a special induction session and training, and have to write three sets of examinations before they can start driving.
Tapang said she earned Dh500 on top of her daily target on the first day of her work. The main reason for her confidence is because her first ever customer was very kind to her. "After that, I focused at becoming good at my job. I believe that driving is one of my core skills. I want to get better at it," said Tapang.
"I genuinely enjoy driving the taxi ... I love meeting people, hearing their stories while going from one part of town to the other," said Tapang.
Both women left behind careers in the Philippines and came to Dubai looking for greener pastures. "I completed my BSc in Mathematics and I used to be a teacher back home," said Gonzaga. She lost her father at the age of 9, and since her graduation has been taking care of her family.
"I've grown up seeing my mother struggle. We are 10 children and she had to make a lot of sacrifices to take care of us ... I don't regret leaving the Philippines because I genuinely enjoy my job," said Gonzaga.
Tapang said that she has two children whose education she takes care of. She has left behind a job in sales and marketing to support her children in the Philippines. "I am a widow and my university-going children live with my parents. I pay entirely for their education," said Tapang.
Both women said one of the reasons they love working as female taxi drivers is because they work closely with children. "We have a service called 'In Safe Hands', where we pick up and drop school going children. For children under 4 year we have to sign an agreement with the parents and they need to be accompanied by a nanny," she Gonzaga.
One of the major benefits of being a taxi driver in Dubai is that you learn to become a tour guide, as well. "We are always dropping families of tourists who come to Dubai from across the globe. It is fascinating because we learn so much about different cultures," said Tapang.
Chipping into the conversation, Gonzaga said the main reason she continues to drive taxis is because she loves her job. "If I didn't love it, I wouldn't do it," she stated.
Leilani Tapang Dhes in her taxi outside the Dubai Taxi Corporation in Muhaisnah, Dubai, on Monday.