July 31, 2009

'Girl Taxi' Service Provides Safety for Women, by Women

The Wall Street Journal published an article by Don Duncan, "'Girl Taxi' Service Offers Haven to Beirut's Women," about an innovative solution to women's transportation problems in Beirut, Lebanon. 45-year-old Nawal Yaghi Fakhri launched Nayaghi Banet Taxi in March 2009 with just three cars and three drivers. Banet Taxi, which means "girl taxi" in Arabic, is a pink taxi car service for women and by women. Mr. Duncan writes, Ms. Fakhri's "fleet of late-model Peugeots has grown five-fold since" launching in March "with enough drivers to provide 24-hour service. She is hoping to double her fleet this summer, to 24 cars." (Photo courtesy of Banet Taxi)

Banet Taxi provides essential services to women who live and work in Beirut, or to conservative Muslim women visiting the Lebanese capital. In a country like Lebanon where the private sector is succeeding and the politically volatile public sector is failing, Banet Taxi provides employment opportunities to female taxi drivers like Maya Buhaidai, 34. Ms. Buhaidai says, "I like being one of the few female taxi drivers in Lebanon. And I like the work. It's easy, it's fun and I get to talk and laugh with my passengers."

Banet Taxi allow female passengers travel safely through the busy streets of Beirut without being harassed by male taxi drivers. Mr. Duncan's article explains, "As the sun sets, Ms. Buhaidai drives passenger Lamia Samaha, 37, from a suburb on the mountain slope to the busy central Beirut district of Hamra. Along the way, they chat about the news, TV shows and children. 'I am at ease because I am accompanied by a woman. I sometimes find men hard to handle,' says Ms. Samaha, causing her and her driver to laugh heartily. It is the promise of a safe and uneventful ride that attracts a wide range of female passengers: older women who want a quiet drive, young women out partying until late at night, and even preschoolers put in the cars by their teachers."

Banet Taxi provides conservative Muslim women residing outside of Lebanon the option of traveling to Beirut independently while adhering to rules prohibiting traveling with unknown men. The company "is positioned to reap the benefits of the summer tourist season, an estimated $1.7 billion industry, with about 30% of revenues coming from conservative Muslim visitors from Gulf states. Once the summer bump in business is over, Ms. Fakhri expects demand for her fleet to remain as strong as it has been in her first quarter of business. That will put her on target to bring in at least $200,000 in sales for 2009 -- a full return on her initial investment, she says."

Banet Taxi "is part of a regional trend. Entrepreneurs across the Middle East have recognized the business potential in offering secure transportation options for women. Banet Taxi follows on the heels of successful women-only transportation models in Dubai, Tehran and Cairo." Here is a video that provides additional details of Banet Taxi and the benefits provided to women in Beirut:

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