This week, Elena Tenchikova, 19, will be steering a new set of wheels. Unlike some of her classmates at Brooklyn College, however, she won't be cruising to a party. She's heading to a taxi stand near you. Tenchikova is taking advantage of new scholarships for women and Spanish speakers provided by New York's Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade. The scholarships cover a three-day course that prepares potential drivers for the city licensing exam. For low-income immigrants hoping to secure a seat behind the wheel, the course's $175 price tag has long been an obstacle. "They said I could take the course for free, and that was that," Tenchikova says. "I signed up immediately."

The scholarships are meant to boost New York City's driver diversity. Women comprise 13 percent of cabbies nationwide, but account for less than 1 percent of New York's 40,000 licensed cabdrivers. Fernando Mateo, president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers and the man who devised the program, hopes more women will sign up as they learn about the job's perks. "Driving a yellow cab gives women the flexibility to drop their kids off at school and to pick them up in the evening," Mateo says.

According to Doris Nelson, a taxi driver for 12 years, female drivers are well rewarded. "I get better tips [than men do]," she says. "I'm cautious. And [passengers] like my perfume." While some men have made inappropriate comments and some have skipped out on paying, "I try not to take it personally. It happens to everybody."

The scholarship program also offers prep courses in Spanish. Although 64 percent of new drivers in the past 10 years have been minorities, only 7 percent were Hispanic. The test must be taken in English, but, says Mexican immigrant Aurelio Pineda, 55, "if I didn't take the class in Spanish, I never would have passed." He got his license last week.