By Shafaat Ahmed www.khaleejtimes.com
With a robust public transport network nearly in place in Dubai, it’s not difficult to imagine that these changes may have brought in some hard times for taxi service companies.
And yet, the ubiquitous taxis have held their own very well, going by the numbers — cabs are still on top of their business by picking up 385,000 passengers daily.
This shows that despite the Dubai Metro gnawing away at their consumer base, public buses spreading their reach wider across various areas of the emirate and the change in demographics as well as the economic pattern affecting businesses, taxis remain a popular mode of transport.
And, there are more taxis on the road today than ever before, but even as better booking and dispatching facilities are being appreciated, their future may not remain as bright.
Fewer complains against cab drivers, fewer requests for bookings, the change in economic situation and the success of the mass transit system — are facts and figures that point to one and the only possibility, taxis’ days on top are numbered.
In its efforts to serve people better, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) continually enhances the taxi service just as it does with the other modes of transport, by introducing new applications like the recently launched online taxi booking facility and the improved GPS and taxi dispatch systems that takes just a few seconds to process a booking request.
But, as its preferred policy, the authority is also promoting and encouraging the use of mass transit system which will obviously work towards pushing the slide of taxis in the long run.
With as many as 8,000 cabs, there are more taxis on Dubai’s roads than ever before but the demand has decreased compared to the previous years, leading to saturation.
“Earlier, there were more people and less taxis on road, now it is the opposite. There are more taxis and the demand has dropped. We are not planning to increase or decrease the number because we feel the current number of 8,000 is a very comfortable one and it will be able to fulfill the demand even if it goes slightly up in the near future,” said Mohammed Abubaker Al Hashemi, Director of Transport Study and Planning Department at the RTA.
With the current supply easily satisfying demand, even the complaints against non-obliging cabbies have come down and the overall efficiency has increased.
According to RTA statistics, the efficiency rate recorded in the first few months of 2010 was around 95 per cent, up by a few percentage points from previous year, while the complaints have dropped by 0.4 per cent from the last quarter of 2009.
The cabbies themselves give testimony of the change in their behaviour. “Not having the luxury of abundance anymore, we can’t afford to pick and choose. We are forced to take whatever is on offer,” said Abid Ali, who has been driving taxis for the last three years.
The new automatised system at the Operation Control Centre (OCC) processes taxi booking requests in a blink, locating and alerting the nearest available cab to the customer’s location within just four seconds of receiving the call.
All the taxis are equipped with sophisticated GPS devices, which are directly connected to OCC, locating each and every taxi in the city and its availability.
“In 2008, our system used to take 56 seconds to respond to a booking request and dispatch a taxi, but now it just takes four seconds for the same due to both decrease in the number of requests as well as an improved system,” said Hashemi, pointing out the improvement in services.
From the peak of eight million booking requests received by RTA’s call centre in 2008, the number came down to six million in 2009. Hashemi attributes this to various reasons.
“The number of calls received to book a taxi has come down due to easy availability of taxis on the roads, better accessibility of other modes of transport as well as decrease in population,” Hashemi noted.
Among the specialised services Dubai Taxi Corporation runs are the women-only pink taxis which are driven by specially trained women drivers. There are also special airport taxis that start with a minimum fair of Dh35 and the sharing taxis that run between designated areas of the emirate that includes Hatta.
Clocking up 192,000 trips daily Dubai’s colourful cabbies transport 140.45 million passengers annually through 80 million trips.