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Feature 16 Aug 17

Belgrade’s Landscape Changes for Ladies of Public Transport

It’s increasingly likely you’ll see women in the driver’s seat of Belgrade’s streetcars – but they still face the odd challenge.

Mirjana Narandzic
Violeta Panic is a streetcar driver. Photo: BIRN/Mirjana Narandzic.

“Let me help you,” said Violeta Panic, a streetcar driver, to a women who accidently boarded the wrong vehicle.

Panic warmly took her hand and led her to a colleague who could drive her to the correct destination.

Although it is now 2017, there is still “male” and “female” job stereotyping prevalent in everyday discourse. Driving buses, streetcars or taxis is often associated with men, while women are frequently (inaccurately) berated as worse drivers. Regardless of this, the number of female drivers in public transport in Belgrade has increased hugely.

“I’ve been doing this job since 1996, and I still love it. Twenty years ago, I heard that competition had opened,” said Panic. She passed all the required tests and landed a job.

Increasing numbers of women want to become public drivers because “something is always happening,” she said. “It’s more exciting than job in the office.”

She added that women are actually more careful drivers as they pay more attention to the roads. “Perhaps it’s slow sometimes, but it’s safe,” she said.

Currently in Belgrade's Public Transport Company (GSP) there are 64 women drivers. Sixty-two of them are streetcar drivers, while only two of them drive buses.

Panic is also around to help her newer, younger colleagues who are just starting to do the job. “You know, it’s very important to be with these people, to familiarize them with the routes and passengers. It’s best for them to work with experienced drivers.”

Early on, she experienced mocking comments, she said, and frequently heard “could you go a little bit faster.” But not today.

“People are generally friendly. Sometimes, they can be a little bit nervous, but I understand them. Traffic jams, coldness, all those things they cannot influence, actually impact their moods. But, I never had really big problems,” she said.

Panic has good relationship with her male colleagues. Yet, she feels that other drivers in the city can become insolent when they see a woman driving a streetcar. “They park their cars on the rails, and then get angry because a woman warned them. But these situations are really rare,“ she said.

Jovanka Matovic, a taxi driver from Belgrade, said that she no longer experiences comments like, “I don't want a woman to drive me."

Apparently it’s the opposite. When people see a female driver they feel safer, especially customers who are young women, and especially if it's late at night.

She started her job in 1994. “After death of my husband, who was also a taxi driver, I left my job in one public company, so I could spend more time with my children. Even 23 years ago, there were women who drove a taxi, but that number is much higher now,” she said.

According to a daily newspaper Srbija Danas count last year, there are 7,500 registered taxis, 15 of which are driven by women. Jovanka added that she would consider herself as a dependable driver and calm person. She avoids tense situations in general, and especially when she works.

“It’s always better to leave, than to wait for conflict“, said Matovic. Although she has not encountered many problems from her customers, one time, a group of young men did not pay her for the journey. “They told me to wait, and that they would bring me money. And I waited, for a minute, or two, but they never showed up again, of course.”

She also said that in the 1990s it was easier to work and earn money, because nowadays there are a lot of taxi drivers.

However, there is also a problem with illegal taxis. Previously, she had to work eight hours, whereas now she has to work 16.

“It's hard, both for women and men taxi drivers. The state doesn't give us anything. We wait for one ride for about two hours. You can always roam through the city and maybe get a customer. But, if you don't find anyone, you make a loss, because you expended fuel."

Customers appear very accepting.

“I don’t see her as a woman, I see her as a conscientious driver, and my five-year-old son is fascinated by her,” said a woman with child who entered Matovic’s car.

According to Women Employment in Urban Public Transport Sector (WISE), across the EU, the public transport sector is 85 percent men. The situation is similar in Belgrade.

Although women who are employed as drivers claim that they don’t face discrimination, and that their number has increased over the past few years, some in Belgrade still see a driver’s job as one for men.

“Yes, I feel safe when a woman drives me, I have no problem with that, but I don’t want my granddaughter, for example, to drive a streetcar. I would be afraid for her, and whether passengers would treat her right,” said a man who boards streetcar number 2 every day.

Panic travels from the Vojvodina village of Baranda every day for work, but it’s not difficult for her, because she works day shifts, and she would never leave her current job. She greatly admires her colleagues who need to wake up at two or three in the morning for work, or those who work at night.

“Wait, I’ll help you“, said Panic again, this time to her young colleague, Olja, who needed assistance parking.

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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