DUBAI // Newly hired taxi drivers may have to take cultural sensitivity and customer service classes before obtaining permits, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has said amid complaints from passengers.
Educating drivers in etiquette and personal hygiene was among the issues discussed during a gathering of the RTA Customers Council last week, as was increasing the number of inspectors to ensure standards were being met.
The agency has received allegations about its cabbies ranging from being refused a ride and sexual harassment to reckless driving and getting lost, among others. A number of travellers welcomed the move to raise driver standards.
"Although taxi standards in Dubai are better than those in most other UAE cities and better than, say those in parts of the Third World, there is still room for improvement," said Motasim Salmi, 32, an Iraqi- American with businesses in the US and Europe.
"One way I gauge how developed a city is, is from its taxi services. A professional level of service indicates strict government oversight. This is a good move."
Raising the level of service was a priority to keep customers satisfied and maintain standards, said Mohammed al Mulla, the RTA chief executive.
"We are attaching huge importance to enlisting cab drivers into training courses to qualify and educate them before hitting the road," he said. "We are also considering subjecting them to a variety of courses about the etiquette of dealing with customers and how to properly communicate with them."
The new courses would compliment standing regulations regarding driver education, said Abdullah Yousef, the director of the RTA Commercial and Investment Department.
A driver "is required to have a smart appearance, cultural education, experience and a good conduct certificate, among others," he said.
Mr al Mullah highlighted RTA efforts to upgrade the level of services rendered to the public to bring them at par with the highest global standards.
"We in the RTA will not reconcile with something short of excellence as Dubai is taking a pioneer role in various fields," he said. "Therefore we will spare no effort towards addressing all needs and expectations of the public. RTA is therefore to launch wide-ranging and continuous inspection campaigns targeting taxis and will take appropriate measures against offending drivers."
Those measures would seem necessary given some of the complaints. Michael Pendleton, a 28-year-old American accountant, said he attended a concert in Dubai recently and was looking for a taxi to take him home from the World Trade Centre to Deira, a relatively short ride.
"There were absolutely no taxis available but I was lucky to find one that was dropping off some people," he said. "I got in and told the told to take me to Deira. He told me he couldn't because he had a fare waiting for him, so I got out.
"The guy drove less than 100 feet and stopped for someone else. I caught up with him and asked his passengers where they were going and they said Arabian Ranches. I guess the driver didn't want to take me because he wanted a long-distance trip. He certainly had no customer service skills."
Other passengers related more alarming experiences. Ashleigh Cadzow, a high school student from New Zealand, said his numerous unpleasant taxi episodes included a trip with a driver who made sexually suggestive gestures.
"I got into a taxi at Dubai Marina going to Jumeirah," he said. "Right from when I got into the taxi the driver was staring at me in the rear-view mirror and put his hand somewhere that made me very uncomfortable. I took the taxi number down and complained to the RTA.
"I don't think he would have dared to do that with an Emirati, so yes, cultural training and social etiquette courses are a very good idea."
One driver who asked not to be named said that he had heard of many such incidents, adding that they harmed the image of both the taxi service and the emirate.
"Drivers know from the way the passenger talks whether they live here or are tourists," he said. "It's the tourists that suffer the most from some. They don't know the way to where they want to go and they certainly don't know that they can complain to the RTA, so they are more easily taken advantage of."