MANY Jamaicans can probably recount an unpleasant incident with a taxi driver, whether as a passenger, a pedestrian, or a fellow road user, but when she was approached to represent them as president of the Route Taxi Association of Jamaica (RTAJ), Sophia Campbell readily obliged.
At first, she said, some taxi operators were not convinced she could manage the job of lobbying for their needs because of her gender, but today she is one of the first people they turn to when bureaucracy makes doing their jobs become burdensome.
"Being a female, they thought I did not understand what they were going through. They believed that the fact that I am not out there operating a taxi, I am unaware of their daily challenges. But after about two years of representing them, their perception changed," she said.
Campbell became president of RTAJ eight years ago, after the Transport Authority made it a requirement for all route taxis to become members of an association. At the time, she was administrative and finance manager at World Net Investment Company, a micro-financial institution which had a number of taxi owners as clients. Seeing the plight of the taxi operators, her company allowed her to offer herself as a member of RTAJ.
Representing over 3,500 taxi operators and owners is not an easy task, and coupled with carrying out her duties as manager at the investment company, Campbell's days are very hectic.
"Being a manager here is challenging and so my hours are very long. My staff call me a workaholic because I am always on the go. But a lot of times I balance both by working late for my company and then in between, I will rush out for a meeting or to an accident scene or so on where the association is concerned," she said.
"It really and truly gets hard at times, and it's really my passion for service, my passion for helping, my passion for trying to help to make change that really keep me going. It's not an industry that you find a lot of females, especially in the role that I am in. You might find them as owners, but not as very active in the association," Campbell told All Woman during a recent interview.
Campbell is not ignorant of the reputation taxi drivers hold, and she herself admits that they can be indisciplined at times. However, she is big on finding solutions, and is also cognisant of the challenges they face in carrying out their duties.
It is this awareness that makes it easy for her to lobby for their cause, which she has been doing quite a lot of in recent times in a more public way. It is not uncommon to see her on the nightly news or in newspapers making appeals to the Authority on the drivers' behalf.
"People think that I have this rough personality because I am seen as the lady with the strong voice when I am speaking for my sector," said the association president, whose well manicured nails and immaculate business suit could easily fool one into believing that she is far removed from the realities faced by those she represents.
"I think I get this roughness because of the fact that I was raised mainly amongst boys, because when I visited my grandfather during the holidays, the majority of my cousins were males, so I learnt to climb trees and to follow them to the river — but it was fun," she said.
Having represented Manchester High School in debating and drama competitions, Campbell has never had a problem articulating her points or dealing with a large crowd. In fact, she has had to draw upon these strengths on occasions, for example, when dealing with taxi men who, in an effort to get redress, choose to block the roads instead of trying dialogue.
Campbell plans to make the sector a more structured one, so that the society can change the perception of taxi drivers. This is going to be an uphill task, but the Manchester native has never been one to run away from a challenge.
"My aim is really to see all those plans, all the ideas that we have for the sector, become a reality for me. I will stay with the sector for as long as I can, because I have a passion for service and I want to ensure that we get to the point when we can professionalise the service level," she said.