A special bus service in Papua New Guinea that gives women a safe and free ride is now training some of the nation’s first female bus drivers.
The Meri Seif, or Safe Women, bus service is expanding, thanks to the donation of four new buses by Australian company Ventura.
The Ginigoada Foundation, which operates the service, decided that a women’s only bus should be driven by women, and is giving them the opportunity through a unique training program.
“To hop on a bus and see a woman behind the wheel, we thought that would be an incredibly positive statement,” Ginigoada’s manager, Mike Field, said.
A small group of trainees are now learning to drive buses in the hope of being chosen for a permanent job on the Meri Seif bus.
“Women drivers for women passengers, that’s the way forward and I’m all for it,” trainee Gorame Momo said.
Driving heavy vehicles is seen as men’s work in Papua New Guinea, but trainee Gita Madaha applied after seeing a woman driving a bus in Townsville.
“When I saw the woman driving, I was so proud of her that I’d like to become a driver just like her,” she said.
“That inspired me.”
‘Doing anything men can do’
One of the trainees is already a trailblazer.
Christina Memti drives a 16-seater bus in the highlands city of Mt Hagen and wants to learn how to drive bigger vehicles.
“I always have a dream to do men’s jobs,” she said.
“Driving buses, driving big trucks doing anything men can do.”
The women are eager students and their trainer Rodney Graham is proud to be helping them break through a glass ceiling, without breaking any windscreens.
“Men along the road and on the other vehicles are looking at us as if we are doing something different so basically it’s a new thing,” he said.
Majority of women victims of crime on public transport
The Meri Seif bus service is much appreciated in Port Moresby, a city where a UN Women survey showed the majority of women had been victims of crime on public transport.
The Ginigoada Foundation wants to make the Meri Seif bus self-sustaining, by setting up a paid bus service as well.
Mike Field said it will demonstrate how public transport should be: clean, safe and — in a revolutionary step for Port Moresby — run to a timetable.
“We really want to model this, we’re trying to do everything at a level which is quality,” he said.
PMVs infamously dirty, unsafe
Port Moresby’s existing public transport is provided by privately-owned buses known as Public Motor Vehicles, or PMVs.
They are infamously dirty, unsafe and unreliable and only leave major stops when they are full, making people in between wait for long periods, which puts them at risk of street crime.
Pastor Mike Field says the foundation wants to show that taking public transport can be pleasant instead of an ordeal.
“We’re trying to provide transport which is not only safe but which is also respectful,” he said.
“We think the dignity of women, they should be having a bus that’s clean, a bus that’s presentable.
“When they hop on that bus, they don’t feel like they’re on a truck with some seats glued to it, we want them to have that quality of experience.”