MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - In an industry, predominantly driven by men, Bambi Barclay and her minivan taxi stick out. She jokingly says, "Anytime a woman can get into a decent paying job - she should."
As Bambi pulls up to her next client, Jacqueline Kloos, it's clear she's caught Jacqueline off-guard. She climbs into the backseat and says, "It's really great having you here. I've never ridden with a female taxi driver before. No really, it's really neat." Bambi replies, "Yeah, I get that a lot."
Bambi is one of about a dozen female owner/operators at Blue and White Taxi of Minneapolis. They're proud of the fact that they employ more female drivers than any cab company in the state. Bambi credits owner Waleed Sonbol for the commitment to support women. She says, "He said ‘I really like the fact that you're a woman and you want to own your own business and yeah, absolutely I'm going to help you do that.’ And I'll always be grateful for that."
But Blue and White doesn't just want to put more women behind the wheel. They're also teaching all of their 300 drivers (mostly men) the advantages of seeing the taxi cab experience from a woman's point of view. In a small conference room at Blue and White's St. Louis Park offices, Andrea Williams is leading the company's 'sensitivity training'. She says, "I'm going to tell you some things that you may not have even thought about." She's teaching all the company's drivers what it's like to be a woman who gets into a taxi and is no longer in control of her surroundings.
She tells them, "If I'm sitting in the back of a cab and the driver has looked in his rear view mirror at me four times I'm now uncomfortable. Why is he doing that? Now all I can think about is how fast am I going to get home. Why did he not take the left where I usually take the left? Why is he going around the block? Now the alarms are going off. When you pull the cab to their destination, wait until they get inside. It only takes three minutes it really does, it sticks with us."
Andrea and her husband Zach Williams used to own Rainbow Taxi in Minneapolis. They had built a reputation for customer service and their customer base was loyal. She says, "Our Rainbow customers would stand out in the rain for two hours for us because they knew it would be worth it." Recently, Blue and White bought Rainbow and insisted the sensitivity training be part of the deal.
In addition to driver training, Andrea helps lead a team of (mostly) women behind the scenes. They run everything from dispatch to payroll. She believes the company's strong female influence sets them apart and their attention to detail will help them reclaim business from mega competitors like Uber and Lyft. Andrea says, "My personal cell number is out there. So that's kind of the difference. I take every complaint seriously I bring in every driver I look them in the face and I'm like ‘what's going on.’ And you know it's a lot of work, it takes a lot of time, but in the end it pays off."