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Driving Change: The Story of Miss Taxi — One of Ghana’s First Female Taxi Drivers

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Saturday, April 16th, 2016
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It’s 5 PM on a balmy April evening in Ghana’s capital, and rush hour is well underway. An entire minibus full of passengers is gawking through the window. Confused, the driver turns to figure out what has his passengers so excited. He sees a seemingly normal taxi beside him. Then he notices the person behind the wheel; she’s a woman.

That woman is Esenam Nyador, one of a very small handful of female taxi drivers in an industry that’s almost entirely dominated by men.

We met with Esenam at a student cafe at the University of Ghana to chat with her about her taxi business, her unique approach to customer acquisition, and how she wants to change the status quo for women in Ghana.

Thanks for joining us today, Esenam. Kindly introduce yourself!

Thanks for having me! I am Esenam Nyador, a 38 year old mother of two incredible boys (eight and seven years old), and one of Ghana’s few female taxi drivers. My clients know me as Miss Taxi.

Tell us a little bit more about why you decided to become a taxi driver.

In 2013, I finished my first degree at the University of Ghana. Rather than do the typical thing and send out hundreds of applications in the hope for a job, I decided to start something by myself. I also had a strong entrepreneurial streak. That, paired with a bold personality, made me eager to try out starting something in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Many of my friends accuse me of being a social deviant [laughs]. I chose taxi driving because this is is a very non-traditional thing to do for a woman in Ghana, and I think of my decision as a gender statement. I didn’t mind stepping on a few toes to change the status quo.

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So how did you get started?

When I started, I did not have any clients. This is how you become a taxi driver in Ghana: you start by joining a taxi union and plying a specific route. I tried to join three different unions, but not a single one would let me in. I tried the Airport Union first. Then I attempted to join a taxi rank at Marina Mall. Finally, I tried a union at the Immigration Office in Ridge. All of them said no. It was pretty obvious that they did not want to let me in because I was a woman. Someone even told me: “You are a woman. You’ll take all our clients from us!” They were actually worried about competition.

But you didn’t give up then, right?

Of course not. I realized that I had to play it smart. So I devised a plan and went back to Marina Mall. I knew who I wanted on my client list already. I wanted corporate Accra, expats, and tourists. Marina Mall is a great place where I would meet these people.

 Miss Taxi Ad

Armed with a couple of call cards, I offered the taxi drivers at the union a compromise. I asked them to let me hang around with them. I just wanted them to toss me the clients they did not want to serve. Within a few weeks I had promoted myself as a communication officer of the union. I would stand right at the entrance of the mall and formally greet people who stepped out of the mall asking them if they needed a taxi. I would say “I am sorry, it is not my turn, but let me walk you to the next driver in line.” Then I would hand them my card. The union thought they were tossing me their leftovers, but they actually helped me to build my client list.

Later, I successfully joined the campus taxi unit here at University of Ghana and they accepted me without any problems. Maybe it was because I am a student of the University of Ghana? Also, most of the drivers in that union have some level of exposure and enlightenment and could accept a woman on their team.

How did passengers react initially when they saw a woman behind the wheel?

Commuters didn’t always recognize right away when they flagged me down, because I wear my hair short. Some would stand by the roadside giggling for a minute when they realized. [Esenam laughs and gets up to imitate the gestures people would make and we all burst out laughing.] Others were not certain if this was actually a taxi. I would always wait patiently and let them sit down and process the information. Some got so confused that they even forgot to tell me the destination.

Esenam imitates the gestures of a confused passenger who just realized that there is a woman behind the wheel.
Esenam imitates the gestures of a confused passenger who just realized that there is a woman behind the wheel.

During the ride a lot of passengers would doubt my competence and act like my driving instructor shouting things at me. Some people asked me if I could not find a female job, whatever that is. Sadly, some passengers refused to drive with me — even women. I remember one woman flagged me down and once she realized, she just said “Oh don’t mind.” I wanted to understand the reasons behind her decision, so I offered to drive her for free, but she still refused.

Luckily, I have never been attacked but I know female metro bus drivers who have experienced verbal and physical assault.

How much did it take to get the business started?

The car was the single biggest monetary investment. I didn’t have the money to buy it outright, so I got it on a “hire purchase” basis where I paid off the car from a portion of my revenue.

I educated myself about car types before I got the car. I chose an automatic car, even though most drivers don’t like these because they allegedly consume more fuel than a manual car. But in fact, it saves fuel when you drive in town where there is a lot of stop and go.

How is Miss Taxi Ghana different from other taxi drivers?

The things that set me apart are professionalism, safety, and reliability. My taxi is very clean. I’ll look down at my clients’ shoes to make sure they don’t bring mud into the car. I always keep the air conditioner on in my car for the comfort of my clients. Unlike many others, I have working seat belts, because my clients trust me with their life. When you call me on my business line, I will reply with “Taxi service. Good morning.” This is the most professional way to interact with someone you have never met in person.

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What kind of services do you offer?

You can book me at an hourly rate or for a full day. I offer pickups and dropoffs at the airport and at all sorts of events. I even run errands for you. For example, when you cannot pick up your children from school because an important meeting came up, I can take over and drop them off at their after school activities. I realized that my customers have these kinds of needs, and I tailored my services to those needs.

Another thing I learnt is that a lot of expats have their own permanent driver and don’t need my services themselves. However, they regularly have visitors coming to Accra, and they don’t have the time to drive with them to Cape Coast or Wli. That is why I offer city tours and tours outside of Accra. As an entrepreneur, you must be able to identify the needs of your customers, because needs are money in disguise [laughs].

How do you acquire your customers?

When I started I had to drive around waiting to be flagged. This bears some risk considering I am a woman. When someone wanted a ride I had to do a very quick psychological analysis and decide whether I wanted to serve this person or not. Luckily, I no longer have to do this. Now I can choose who I want to serve. Clients find me through referrals from previous clients, and every new client knows someone I have served before. This helps keep me safe.

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Word of mouth works best for me. For example, I met one of my most important clients during my time at Marina Mall back in 2013. Let’s call him Michael. Michael worked at the Canadian High Commission, and he wanted to go from Marina to Alisa Hotel, but he couldn’t come to an agreement on a price with the next driver in line. The driver wanted 10 GHC, but Michael only wanted to pay 8 GHC. So the driver let me to take over.

Michael was with his wife and toddler. At the end of the ride, he decided to give me 10 GHS after all because he liked me so much and even offered to share my numbers with his colleagues at the Canadian High Commission. This helped me get clients not only at the Canadian High Commission, but also the British High Commission, the Embassy of the Netherlands, the GiZ (Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit, a German governmental organization), as well as a couple of other international organizations.

I also keep track of the people I drive in my little guestbook. People enter their name, where they come from and leave a few remarks. I also document who recommended them to me in this book, so I better understand where I get my clients from.

Esenam shows us her guest book full of praise and compliments. We find some familiar names in there. Many of the clients are from abroad.

Who has been your most famous client so far?

The most famous passenger must be John Benjamin, the current British High Commissioner. He is very nice and laid back. He actually gets angry when you call him “Your Excellency.”

How did you learn to orient yourself around Accra?

Before Miss Taxi, I ran my own shop selling batik items. My product finishers were scattered all over Accra, and I had to go all over the city to pick up the products. I still don’t know every corner of Accra, but this gave me a good start. When I don’t know a place, my clients just drop me a pin on WhatsApp and I can easily locate them using Google Maps. I wish other taxi drivers knew about those technologies, but sadly many don’t. I am privileged because I can take advantage of technology and the internet.

Orientation isn’t enough, though. You also need to know how to avoid traffic. I know good alternatives to avoid popular routes, but it does not always work out. Sometimes all the plans backfire and you just have to wait.

Are you good at negotiating prices?

I am terrible at negotiation. I always quote too high or too low. That’s why I decided to give out a flat hourly rate and it works well for me. I charge 30 GHC per hour. It takes into account my time, the fuel I have to buy, and the cost for maintaining my car.

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We burst out laughing several times during the interview.

What if Uber came to Ghana?

Ok, this is what I think about Uber — I think Uber coming to Ghana would be a great thing. I hear all the stories about them. In London, they call them heroes, in India they’re the devil. In Kenya, there was just a big riot recently. I think Uber will bring sanity to Ghanaian transportation. If they bring meters to Ghana, the regular taxi drivers will get meters, too.

I also believe that taxi drivers should be paid for their time, fuel, and the quality of vehicle, and not just for getting from A to B. I hope that Uber raises the standards across the industry and I believe that all taxi drivers will benefit from that, because I think that regular taxi drivers are undervalued — they don’t earn enough. I’m not afraid of Uber eating into my margins, because Uber still needs to adjust to the local fuel prices and that’ll limit the extent to which they can lower prices. Uber could win clients with added services, e.g. by offering wifi in their taxis. Will local drivers be able to react appropriately? Will they learn and evolve? Competition brings improvement if handled properly. Do you protest or do you process information and adjust your strategy? Personally, I’d say to Uber: “Bring it on!”

Have you ever doubted your decision to become a taxi driver?

Do you see this? [Esenam shows us a little silver truck figurine]. I always keep it in my car, because to me it is a statement. When I started out, I originally wanted to learn how to drive such a truck. But until now I have not found a male truck driver who is willing accept me as a mate and teach me. It is my dream to find someone who is willing to teach me how to drive such a monster on the road. It represents my ability to do the seemingly impossible. I’ve never had a moment wondering why I do this, because my taxi business has helped me push myself and overcome so many obstacles.

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Tell us a little bit more about your studies at the University of Ghana

I have a Social Work Major with a Psychology Minor. Currently, I’m studying Family Resource Management at the College of Basic and Applied Sciences at the University of Ghana. It explores how families can secure and manage their income and covers aspects like entrepreneurship, personal finances, micro enterprise development, and gender planning.

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My Master’s Thesis explores occupational gender segregation using the example of female professional drivers in Accra. So I am literally driving my thesis [laughs]. Miss Taxi Ghana is not only a job to make a living, but also a learning experience and my field study.

How do you manage all your different roles?

I think of myself as a circus performer [laughs]. The most important thing is making money. My taxi business is my only source of income. I use the money to provide for my two kids and to pay my study fees. If there is money left, I put it back into the business.

When it comes to time management, I change roles several times throughout the day. When I get up, I am a mother. After I have taken my boys to school, I become a business woman driving a taxi. When my client commitments conflict with my children’s schedule, I pay another taxi driver to pick up my children after school and take them to my mother. My mother plays a very important role here, because she helps out as a babysitter whenever I need her. When a client’s request conflicts with my university schedule, I toss them to another female driver. We are all friends and like an unofficial taxi union.

How should women’s role in the Ghanaian society change?

Women must have the chance to take a more active role in the development of our society. We are already an important driving force in this economy, but we are limited to gender-specific jobs like reproduction and community management. These are basically unpaid labour. Women don’t have the same level of freedom as men in our society and they miss opportunities because they have to take care of children.

Therefore, institutional structures have to change. For example, women should be allowed a maternity leave for six months. There should be day care centres at corporate companies for working mothers. Also, there is no reason why women should not be allowed to own land, as happens in some especially conservative traditional societies. We don’t need opportunity to be served on a silver platter. But don’t shut the door in our faces. Let us a fair chance.

How can the readers of this article support you?

You can help me best if you become my walking billboard. I need clients to keep Miss Taxi Ghana alive and I want it to be known around the world. When you know someone visiting Ghana, tell them about me.

Who would you like to thank?

I want to thank my mother. She always allowed me to explore without ever holding me back with her words and actions. She has done a great job raising me. Nothing I do surprises her anymore.

Today she helps me whenever I need someone to take care of my boys and therefore enables me to do what I am doing.

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What are your plans for the future?

I want to see more women behind the wheels on our roads. Women driving buses, taxis and trucks. I think there would be more sanity on the road. So it is my dream to establish an all-female taxi service company where the entire fleet is driven by females. I also want to continue pursuing my academic career. I want to get a Phd and become a lecturer at the tertiary level. Finally, I still need to find that truck driver who is willing to take me on.

Miss Taxi Ghana Snapshot

Company: Miss Taxi Ghana
Founders: Esenam Nyador

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Call Miss Taxi for Service Booking (Phone and WhatsApp): +(233)0233255074 or +(233)0555050950
Skype: misstaxi13

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