As the coins went in one hole and a moment later came tumbling out of another, my frustration moved off the scale. I was standing by interchange one at Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, having jumped off the coach from Abu Dhabi, and was trying to buy a bus ticket to get to the airport. Alas, the days of paying for your bus ride by handing the fare to the driver are a thing of the past in Dubai, so I was among a scrum of people attempting to get a ticket from a recalcitrant machine.
The problem was, the stupid contraption did not like some of my Dh1 coins. It was fine with the older Dh1 pieces, but each time I dropped a newer disc of silver into the machine it was rejected. And I didn't have enough old coins for the Dh4 fare. Oh, and the machine wouldn't take notes. One bus driver loitering nearby suggested I use Dubai Metro, but that was of little use, since it goes to Terminal Three, which is on the other side of the airport to Terminal Two, where I was flying from.
And so I caught a taxi, which cost more than Dh20. This annoying little episode seemed to sum up what a pain - and more to the point, what an expense - getting to and from airports can be. My experiences when I landed at the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, were no better. As I was arriving late at night, I had arranged to be picked up by my hostel and, at the most, had expected to pay the standard taxi fare into town of 20 manat (Dh91.25).
That would have been expensive enough for a not particularly long journey into town, but instead the rip-off merchants charged me 30 manat (Dh137). And all that to take me to a hostel where there were tiny black worms on the bathroom floor. Disgusting. When I left the country five days later, the location of the bus stop indicated in my five-year-old guidebook had moved, and after a fruitless hour and a half trying to find out where the bus actually left from I had to get a taxi. I bargained the driver down from 20 manat to 15, which provided me with a little consolation, but it was nonetheless more money wasted.
Indeed, from all the countries I have visited, I think I could probably write a book on the difficulties of travelling to and from airports. In more cities than I care to remember, I have arrived tired and disorientated in an unfamiliar place, only to be greeted by shameless taxi drivers interested in nothing but fleecing me for all the money I possess. Generally I am wise to their tactics and I walk past the rows of cabs and clamber on board the nearest marshrutka, jeepney or whatever the local type of bus happens to be called in that particular country.
Taxis are a last resort only, when it's late or the public transport is poor or non-existent. Thankfully, in the UAE taxi drivers picking up from passengers from airports are honest and will not attempt to charge above the going rate. That going rate, however, is a lot more than the spendthrift would like it to be. While the standard fare is typically just a few dirhams, at airports the rate begins at Dh20. This starting rate has always struck me as way over the odds, and it is something that on only one occasion in the dozens of times I have arrived at a UAE airport I have ever paid.
In Dubai, if I am in a hurry to get somewhere and want to take a taxi rather than a bus, I walk out of the terminal building, head upstairs, use the flyover to cross the motorway, pass through the car park and keep going past Le Meridien until I get to another highway. There, I hail a taxi at the standard rate. Never mind if I am weighed down with luggage and it is the middle of summer, there is no way I am paying a starting fare of Dh20.
At Sharjah and Abu Dhabi airports, where buses are difficult or impossible to find, I simply pick up my backpack and keep walking until something more attractive than a Dh20 airport taxi comes along. Once in Sharjah, someone simply stopped as I navigated my way through the roadworks near the airport and offered me a lift into town. Other times I wait by a motorway until a standard taxi has come along and offers me a ride.
Yes, the UAE is a much better place to arrive in than many other countries we could all name, but when it comes to getting a ride to your hotel or home, unfortunately it's often not any cheaper - unless you make a bit of effort and leave the airport taxis behind. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org