Viira Cabs: Lady chauffeurs for Mumbai
Revathi Roy is a rally car driver turned entrepreneur in a simple cotton sari. Have you ever met a woman like that before?
Roy started Forsche (as in Porsche) in 2007, a cab service for women only, which was borne out of financial necessity. With a husband in a coma and a child at MIT, making ends meet was difficult.
Her new company employed and trained women to be strong drivers at a time when, she says, “No one had ever heard of a commercial driver being a woman.”
Her success in training India’s first female taxi drivers is evident on the streets of Mumbai, the city she calls ‘home.’
Thanks to ideological differences with an ally, Roy recently let go of her brainchild, to start her newest driving (ad)venture -- Viira Cabs. The company, officially launched on January 17, was started by Roy and Preeti Sharma Menon, a friend of Roy’s who was looking to do something new.
Viira, meaning courageous woman, is unique in its structure.
Whilst it’s a cab service for women, it’s also a female driver bureau, a recruitment agency and a motor training school.
All drivers, whether part of the regular cab-service or whether hired by customers as personal chauffeurs, go through a training program of which the company ought to be proud.
For Rs 10,000 and over a period of three months, women at Viira’s motor training school undergo 155 hours of driving in addition to classes on road knowledge, traffic signs, martial arts, customer relations, etiquette and grooming!
Once trained, many of these women are recruited by large corporations and hotels. Today, some of them can be seen at the front of a BMW.
How did Roy come up with such a great idea?
“Viira came about because I saw a need," Roy says. "It was just a normal business.”
When I ask her whether it was a result of high rates of sexual harassment in the city, or perhaps a reaction to cultural sensitivities, she shakes her head vehemently.
The entrepreneurs, however, know that her “normal business” isn’t exactly ordinary. It has empowered hundreds of young women by recognizing that driving is a skill that can given many Mumbai ladies a dignified living -- apart from a whole lot of confidence.
“Viira is a very powerful platform for poor, urban women who are now able to earn up to Rs 12,000 a month. I see this every day. My hope now is to go to Tier 2 cities where Indian women are most starved of opportunities,” Roy says.
Do women make good drivers, then?
“It’s a misnomer to say women are bad drivers. Driving really has nothing to do with ones gender. It is a skill. Either you have it or you don’t.”
But Viira’s USP, beyond being all-female, is undoubtedly its service. A quick look at the inside of a Maruti Eco Viira cab and you’ll know precisely what that means.
Every woman has to wear blue jeans and a striped shirt with polished black shoes. In addition, Viira has given its drivers silver nail polish, pink lipstick and a pair of pearl earrings. As they smile for a picture, it is more than apparent that Roy is a veritable, sub-continental Professor Higgins.
But if these gentle-looking creatures are harassed, God help you.
“If drivers find eve teasers they’ve been told to just hammer them. We’ve put pepper spray and batons in every single car. We’ll deal with the cops later,” quips the co-founder.
While Roy thinks there’s a market for this kind of business in many cities, she knows that it is Mumbai’s relative safety that has made her ventures possible.
Her hope is that Viira will increase the mobility of senior citizens and young girls who will feel much safer in the hands of a trained, female driver.
“The attitude of Indian mothers is changing. Now they know their daughters go out and drink. They realize they may as well keep them safe by putting them in the hands of a woman who at all times is playing the role of a mother or a sister. A man can’t be a woman. And just because a woman is sitting at the wheel she doesn’t become a man.”
So what’s next?
Roy and Menon are currently working on an rickshaw project for women. Driven by women and for women only, these autos will be available outside railways stations and will be meant for women to share. So what if a man is accompanying a woman?
“No men allowed at all! No, no, no! We don’t want them!” Roy concludes.
To book a Viira cab call +91 (0) 22 6120 6120 or email firstname.lastname@example.org; www.viiracabs.com