Dubai mum, who dreamed of becoming a driver, makes double decker history

Shanti Kumari Bhandari behind the wheels of the double decker bus that she plies in Dubai.
Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Shanti Kumari Bhandari, a 41-year-old single mum from Nepal, always dreamed of becoming a driver. Inspired by a woman tempo driver back home, she often visualised herself behind the wheels. But she had little money to make ends meet, let alone learn driving.

In 2015, when she first came to the UAE to work in a beauty parlour at the behest of her sister, the desire to drive grew stronger.

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“The roads here were so beautiful that I was more determined than ever. But again, it was not easy as it cost money and I could not go about it while working in the parlour. So I decided to build a fund for it even as I waited for the right opportunity,” she recalled.

As a lady driver of a double decker bus, Shanti Kumari Bhandari says she has come a long way from the days that she would save money just to fulfil her dream of learning to drive.
Image Credit: Supplied

In due course, it was almost as if the universe conspired as Shanti came across a vacancy for a school bus attendant.

“I took up the job although it paid me less than what I was earning in the parlour,” she said, adding that over the next year and a half, she focused on her driving lessons with the money she had saved.

Shanti then became a taxi driver, a job she cherished as she ferried passengers across Abu Dhabi’s state-of-the-art roads over the next two years.

Around this time, she read articles in the press about Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) employing women as double decker bus drivers.

“I found it fascinating but I knew I could not qualify as I did not have the experience. But as luck would have it, a private company was looking for drivers. I applied and I was accepted,” she said.

Overnight celebrity

When Shanti took up the job, she actually made history.

“I was told I became a pioneer in the Middle East as a woman double decker bus driver in the tourism sector,” she said, even as she became an overnight celebrity in Nepal.

“I am so thankful to the UAE and to my company for making this possible,” said Shanti. “I was not only able to realise my passion for driving, but also avail great job opportunities in this country and support my 14-year-old son in Nepal.”

Shanti’s typical day begins at 8am. She clocks three-four tours a day, along two routes – the Red Line and the Green Line, covering the new and old Dubai districts.

Typical day

“While the newer areas take two-and-half-hours to cover, the old area tour spans one hour and 45 minutes,” she shared.

According to her, driving a bus is vastly different from driving a car.

“I have to be very careful while turning and reversing the 77-seater vehicle. This can be a challenge in the narrow lanes of the old districts. I also have to keep in mind that it is a tourist bus, where passengers can suddenly stand up, even move around, to take pictures. So I have to ensure I drive slowly. It is something I have learnt to manage well,” she boasted.

As a lady driver, it also makes her proud when passengers congratulate her and want to take pictures with her. “It’s a great feeling when they compliment me and ask me to pose in photos with them,” she said.

Inspiration for other women

Mike Lees, Executive Director, Middle East, Big Bus Tours, who hired Shanti, said she ticked all the boxes when she applied for the job. “We were trying to find a woman driver to ensure a diverse profile for our staff as is the case in cities like London, New York or Sydney. Shanti has an impeccable record when it comes to driving and customer service and has set a fine precedent in a role that has been viewed as predominantly male,” he said.

According to him, she is currently the only lady driver in the company’s team of 54 drivers across Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat in the Middle East.

“We want to empower more women like her and hope she will inspire others to join,” he added.