By Shafaat Ahmed www.khaleejtimes.com
Prior to the launch of Dubai Metro last year, many taxi drivers in Dubai were anxious about the possible loss of income it would bring about.
Though, like all businesses, taxis have also found the going tougher in the last two years, the slide began much before the launch of Metro and cabbies attribute the slump to more than one factor, with the ongoing economic downturn on top of the list.
Mohammed Saleem began his taxi journey during the golden period of Dubai’s boom and has been on the road for more than six years. The 32-year-old feels business is looking better than last year. “We don’t have the windfalls we had in 2004-05, but it’s getting better. It is at least 20 per cent better than last year and I feel it will improve further,” said the confident-looking cabbie from the Indian state of Kerala. “We still can’t make as much many as we used to five or six years ago, but with a smart choice of areas and a bit of luck enough can be made,” Saleem added.
As seven more Metro stations are set to open by the end of April and three more to open by mid-May, some might think the worries could come back to haunt the cab drivers. “Personally, I had never worried. I always have the faith in Allah. I know if one channel closes, several more.
open and that’s exactly what happened. Metro stations opened new opportunities for us, so more stations mean more opportunities,” Abbas Ali, who has been driving a taxi for almost three years.
He said that initially he had to change the style of his work and try harder. “Two things happened around the same time, first there was recession and than came the Metro. These two developments forced me to change my style. The number of long-distance customers dropped drastically due to the economic downturn, but the Metro rescued us by providing more short-distance customers with greater frequency,” added Ali, who gets most of his customers around the Metro station.
With greater competition and fewer passengers, one perennial complaint against cab drivers has come down significantly — that of being choosy when it came to picking up passengers. Now, they can’t afford to do that.
“There isn’t as much business as it was before, so we don’t have the luxury to pick and choose,” said another taxi driver Abid Hussain. “Life is not that easy these days, but it’s not very bad either. Though we have to work longer hours, I still make my minimum target of around Dh9,000 per month, of which I get around 30 per cent,” he added.
According to Ali, apart from Metro, there are other factors that helped ease some of the pressure off the drivers.
“The best thing RTA did for us in the last two years is increasing the minimum fare to Dh10, which has helped us a lot. It also increased the minimum fare to Sharjah to Dh20. Another is the change in waiting charge. Earlier, waiting charge would start after 10 minutes of applying the brakes, now it starts within one minute,” added Ali.
Online Booking Will Improve Business
The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) recently launched an online taxi booking service and the cab drivers feel the service will help improve the ir business considerably. The online booking service which was launched last month is currently offered only for hotels, businesses and organisations during occasions like Dubai Shopping Festival.
Commenting on the new service, the CEO of Public Transport Agency Essa Abdul-Rahman Al Dosari said: “The Online taxi booking service would be fully available to the public and all segments of the community at the end of this year. This service is poised to bring about a remarkable cut in the number of telephone calls incoming to the Dispatch Section at the Public Transport Agency.”
Number of Complaints Drops
The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has confirmed the general improvement in the efficiency of the taxi business.
According to Mansour Rahma Al Falasi, Acting Director of Franchise and Enforcement Department at RTA Public Transport Agency the operational efficiency of the taxi sector “is showing significant monthly increments as it reached 95 per cent in January 2010, recording a 2 per cent increase over the prevailing rate in December 2009 (93 per cent); which is a positive indicator of the ongoing progress in this aspect of the sector’s overall performance level.”
Taxi accident rate per 100km recorded in January 2010 was 0.3 per cent, which is the same rate in December 2009, but the complaints rate per 100km in January 2010 showed a slight drop as it recorded 1.4 per cent when compared with the prevailing rate in December 2009 which was 1.445 per cent.