Dubai // The sleek silver-grey crafts certainly turned heads yesterday as onlookers gathered on wooden abras to wave, take pictures and take in the sights at the launch of Dubai's waterbound taxi service. The five new air-conditioned boats - with their imposing tinted windscreens - drew admiring, if quizzical glances from tourists.
The 11-meter vessels, which seat 11 passengers, ferry passengers from hotels along Dubai's coast to local sightseeing destinations. The service runs from 10am to 10pm. "We are getting a lot of enquiries - where will the taxi go, how much will the charges be," said Mohammad Abu Bakr al Hashimi, the director of planning at the Roads and Transport Authority. "This is a trial to find out if there are any errors, so we can make the service better.
"We expect a normal service to begin after Ramadan." RTA officials were unable to provide passenger numbers for the first day of operations, but following previous news reports, they were keen to clarify the water taxi's tariff rates. A cost of Dh50 for the short trip from Dubai Creek Park across to the Deira would be applied, no matter how many occupants were aboard. A single passenger would pay Dh50 while a group of 10 could split the fare between them.
The longest journey, from Dubai Festival City to the Jebel Ali Hotel and Spa, costs Dh570. Fares are calculated according to the distance between stations. Passengers can call a freephone number to make a booking or inquiry. "It's like a regular taxi but on water," said Mr al Hashimi. "We hope tourists, residents and their families will come to enjoy and relax." Inside the well-lit vessels, sunlight streamed in through portholes as flatscreen TVs on reclining leather seats played videos about Dubai.
Dimitri Pavlo, a Brazilian on a week-long holiday with his family of four, said he had already travelled on the popular wooden abra boats that ferry passengers in the Dubai Creek area. "My family went on the dhow and the abra, but it is so hot now," said Mr Pavlo. "Tomorrow we will go in the water taxi. I read about it in the news. "The abras cannot take the waves, but the water taxi looks sturdy. It will be a good ride."
The water taxis can move at speeds of up to 35 knots (64kph) along the coast, and up to 7 knots inside the creek itself. Sachin Kamat, a tourist from India, said he had come across a vessel carrying passengers at the Atlantis hotel and was immediately intrigued. "I thought it would be too expensive to ride because the Atlantis is expensive. But if I can take my family in a boat for Dh100 in the Marina it will be worth it," he said.