The Fare Sex? Israeli Government Looks to Train Arab Women as Bus Drivers

Transportation Ministry seeking to address shortfall of drivers, estimated at about 1,500.

Emil Salman

In an effort to alleviate the serious shortage of bus drivers in Israel, the Transportation Ministry is seeking to recruit Israeli Arab women to drive the vehicles.

Arab women constitute a large potential pool of bus drivers, as 70% of them are not employed outside the home. The Transportation Ministry has received the support of the economy, finance and social affairs ministries to address the shortfall, estimated at about 1,500.

Initially, the ministries are seeking to recruit 15 to 25 women, who would then take a comprehensive bus driver’s course. It will include instruction in Hebrew, technical training and instruction on customer service. The Arab community bus company Afifi has already committed to employ the female graduates on its bus lines in the Nazareth area.

The effort to recruit Arab women involves a paradigm shift, because Israeli-Arab society is seen by many as traditional and the role of bus driver is viewed as a male occupation. There are also those in the Israeli-Arab community who are hesitant at having Arab women have contact with outsiders.

Nevertheless, the government ministries involved in the initiative decided to pursue it despite the obstacles. (Studies show that women tend to be more careful drivers.) The government will pay the cost of the course and also provide stipends of 4,000 shekels ($1,000) per month for the course’s three and a half month duration. The participants will commit to work as drivers for at least a year.

The plan is to have the women work initially only on bus routes within Israeli-Arab population centers. This will enable them to work relatively close to home and provide them with convenient work hours, including the option of half-day shifts. The program does not require any particular educational background.