With her black hair pulled tightly into a bun and bright pink lipstick that matched the Pashmina scarf wrapped around her neck, 65-year-old Dinorah De Cruz eased her Acura SUV onto Park Avenue just as the city’s Friday rush hour began. Originally from the Dominican Republic, the mother of two has been a livery driver in Manhattan for more than 16 years. But De Cruz said it wasn’t an easy industry to break into.
“There is a lot of machismo. This is a job that many men say is just for them, and that women can’t do it. But I don’t think so, because you’re not carrying the car, you’re driving it,” she laughed, changing lanes among the city’s sea of yellow taxis.
De Cruz said she retired two years ago, but decided to get back behind the wheel this fall to help offer a different kind of ride as part of SheRides, a women-only taxi service that only employs female drivers. The service, also known as SheTaxis, is the first of its kind in a city where 98.9 percent of yellow cab drivers are men, according to the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC).
Although women have been driving vehicles for hire in New York City since the 1940s, they are still few and far between. A 2014 TLC study found that there are currently only 536 female yellow taxi drivers, compared to 49,500 men. Among all vehicles for hire, including limousine and black car services, the share of female drivers – 4 percent – is slightly higher.
SheRides founder Stella Mateo – an entrepreneur and the wife of Fernando Mateo, founder of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers – said such a disparity is a big part of why she decided to start her company with Tamika Mallory, a civil-rights advocate.
“It’s a movement to empower women,” Mateo said. “We deserve equal rights, equal pay and equal choice.”
She said the idea came to her after struggling to find safe rides for her own two children.
“When my girls were growing up, I had to shuffle them around to after-school programs in between work, and if I had had the choice, you know with that mother instinct, you always feel a little more comfortable with your kids riding around with a woman,” Mateo said.