Dubai aims to put more taxis on roads


By Eugene Harnan

DUBAI // Flagging down a taxi should become easier next year as more cabs are introduced in what is expected to be a major overhaul of the industry.

Changes to Dubai’s taxi industry will be aimed at improving the quality of service. Pawan Singh / The National
Changes to Dubai’s taxi industry will be aimed at improving the quality of service. Pawan Singh / The National

Mansoor Rhama al Falasi, acting director of the franchising and enforcement department at the Public Transport Agency, said a 10-year plan would see changes made to the service throughout 2010, including an increase in the estimated 7,600 vehicles currently on the road.

The plan, being put together by the consultants Booz & Co, will look at every aspect of the taxi industry.

Top of the agenda would be fares, regulations and driver training, said Mr al Falasi. “We release new plate numbers for taxis through auctions,” he said, “but, in the future, that way of increasing a fleet may change.

“This study will cover the supply and demand for the sector until 2020 and will look at the regulations, rules, and operational plans for franchise companies.

“It will affect the guy on the street as it will make it easier for them to get a taxi.

“The consultant is also studying the customer and every single aspect of the system, including the intelligence system we have, for example, in our call centre.”

In April, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) introduced a minimum cab fare of Dh10 per trip and a starting fee of Dh20 for journeys from Dubai to Sharjah.

Waiting time was priced at 50 fils per minute, in addition to distance travelled. Previously, the first 10 minutes of the journey did not incur a time charge.

Mr al Falasi said: “When you introduce a new fare it is not going to be a long-term structure.

“We are going to have a review on those fares and maybe increase or decrease them. We are in the process of reviewing these.”

The Booz plan will cover both taxis and limousine services. A quarter of the city’s service are limousines, which charge higher fares than standard taxis.

“They belong to franchise companies who send the limousine cars to hotels, shopping malls and are also on call,” said Mr al Falasi.

“We are reconsidering the franchise for the limousine sector but we are waiting for the masterplan to see if it is correct to do so or not.”

Issues under review include how many cars should be in a limousine fleet, whether or not a handful of companies should have the entire limousine franchise and the possibility of more people being allowed to buy limousine licences.

The RTA, which has an eight-strong team overseeing the project, will receive the plan at the end of the year, with a view to implenting the changes by the end of 2010. A new plan will be commissioned in 2020.

The RTA has already made some changes. Following complaints about malodorous cabs, all of Dubai Taxi Corporation’s (DTC) 3,503 taxis were installed with air fresheners last month.

Yousef Mohammed al Ali, director of DTC’s fleet operations department, said the air filters in the cars’ air-conditioning systems were now being replaced every three months.

As a trial, some taxis have been fitted with technology limiting their top speed to 100kph.

The RTA also established a dedicated fleet of taxis that are allowed to pick up passengers only in Bur Dubai and Deira. Both areas had previously been avoided by taxi drivers, because of their heavy traffic and the prospect of only earning small fares.

Mr al Falasi said despite the opening of the Dubai Metro, “the market is still there for taxi drivers”.

But Bali Suriya, 43, a taxi driver from Sri Lanka, was concerned that more taxis on the roads would make his job more difficult.

However, he believed that his car offered a quicker alternative to mass public transport.

“Some people don’t have time to get buses or the Metro. I was told it takes a long time to get to where they want to on the Metro,” he said.

Ali Safar, from India, who has been driving a taxi in Dubai for nine years, said he had witnessed major changes in the business.

“Before we were happy to stay around Deira and Bur Dubai,” he said. “But traffic got so bad we just didn’t go down there because it would take an hour or more to get a fare of Dh10.

“Now the Metro is there and there are the dedicated taxis for that part of town too. I don’t go the full length of Sheikh Zayed as much because some people will take the Metro.”

Mustafa Ali, 29, from Pakistan, said: “There are not as many people here as last year so it’s difficult to find fares. If there are more taxis on the roads, it will be more difficult to make money so I hope it will get busier. Now we have the exhibitions that bring lots of people here.

“The summer was not too good for tourists and now the Metro is taking customers who would usually go the full length of Sheikh Zayed Road.”

Shane Conners, 39, who regularly visits Dubai from London on business, said the standard of taxis was good compared with other cities.

“It is cheaper to get around than other cities but, sometimes, the language can be a problem and the drivers are not too sure about where they are going,” he said.

Sammer Anas, 27, a marketing executive from Egypt, who has lived in Dubai for three years, said: “Taxis are easy to get now. I don’t know if there are more on the streets or less people taking them.

“It also depends where you are getting them. In Media City, it is easy to find one during the day, but in Satwa at 5pm it is nearly impossible. Still, it’s easier than last year.”