Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Babushka Behind the Wheel

The chances are slim, but one day Lyudmila Voronina may drive up to the curb and offer you a ride in her taxi.


One of perhaps 30 female cab drivers in the entire capital, Voronina, 51, is a veteran at navigating Moscow's hazardous streets and repairing cranky Soviet engines.


"A women should know how to do everything", said Voronina, who wears a black leather jacket over her dress. "If they taught me how to fly a plane, I could do that too; I'm not afraid of anything".


A grandmother and sole breadwinner for a family of five, Voronina conveys both a blunt self-assurance and a motherly compassion. She speaks in almost lyrical terms when describing the hours she spends working under the hood of her cab.


"The motor must beat like my heart, even and clear", she said.


In a country where women often work in heavy industrial jobs, the taxi business has remained a virtually all-male domain, and few women seem interested in breaking into the increasingly dangerous profession.


A recent The Moscow Times telephone survey of 18 of Moscow's 21 former state taxi parks - three taxi parks are either out of commission or don't answer the phone - found only 26 women working as official cab drivers. Before the arrival of private taxis blurred the census of cab drivers plying Moscow's streets, these parks registered about 18, 000 drivers.


Many taxi park managers balk at the idea of women working as taxi drivers. Indeed, women drivers of any kind of car are a rare sight in Moscow.


"In general, this is not women's work; that was the case before, and it is especially true today", said Anatoly Krilov, manager of Taxi Park No. 1, where Voronina works. "The work has become dangerous; men are attacked and forced out of the car".


Voronina hides her money in the car every time she earns a few thousand rubles, and so far she has been lucky - other than a watermelon that was once stolen, she has lost nothing. As she sees it, being a woman is an asset as a taxi driver.


"There are many mafia types and racketeers in the city, and I have driven such people, but I think they respect me as a woman", said Voronina. "Maybe they think of me as a mother".


Her competence and confidence have won over her colleagues, who were skeptical when she first applied for a job in Moscow's Taxi Park No. 1 in 1966. Voronina, one of three women cab drivers on the staff in 1966, is the only remaining woman.


"The men say that Voronina, she's a fine fellow'", she said, describing how her fellow drivers treat her.


Some taxi veterans say that women are more streetwise than men in navigating the city boulevards and staying out of trouble.


"In some senses women are even better than men as drivers", said Dmitry Naidyonov, head repairman at Taxi Service Seven. "First, they don't drink; second, they are more disciplined; third, a woman, in principal adapts better to different situations, and they can more quickly evaluate passengers".


Indeed, Voronina's husband, a former taxi driver, drank too much over the years and has fallen into poor health, she said.


"At home, I do the wash, I cook, I even tackle the home repairs", she said. "As long as I'm healthy and they don't chase me away, I'll keep driving a taxi, too".