ABU DHABI// Airport passengers have complained that they are being pressurised by ushers at the taxi stand into taking private-hire cars over silver cabs.
Clint Moore, who returned from Egypt to Abu Dhabi wanting nothing more than a safe and comfortable ride home from the airport.
He said: "At the front of the line of cars waiting to take passengers to their hotels or homes, were approximately eight to nine private cars without any distinguishing marks on them. There was no indication that they were taxis. At the end of the line were the silver cabs."
Silver cabs run by the meter, while private cars, or limousines, run at a flat rate of Dh70 to take passengers from the airport into the city. Passengers said an average commute from the airport to the city in a silver cab came to about Dh50, depending on the location.
Mr Moore, a teacher, said that when he arrived at the taxi queue, the usher was trying to convince him to take the private-hire cars.
"I told him that I wanted a silver cab but he insisted by saying, 'this is the same'," Mr Moore said. "At this point I became very upset because I realised that the two cars were not the same and I was obviously being pressured into doing something that I was not comfortable doing."
After demanding a silver cab, Mr Moore, said the usher "reluctantly" directed him to a silver taxi.
Mr Moore was not alone. Many travellers complained that extra effort was needed to try to "make their way" to a silver cab at the airport.
Feras Yashou said that he was directed to a black limousine as though it was "a natural thing".
"Had I not known the difference, I could have easily taken that car instead," he said.
That was the case for Wafa Mohammad, who said she was unaware that she even had the option and paid the Dh70 to return to the city.
"I didn't know there was a difference between the two," she said. "That was the first one in the line, so I just got in,"
After demanding a silver cab from the usher, Mr Yashou's request was met. Mr Yashou said he paid around Dh170 going to Dubai with the silver meter taxi, whereas the same trip with a private-hire car was a flat rate of Dh275.
Alawi Dares, the communication officer for TransAd, the regulation centre for all the silver taxis, said that investigators were always on the scene to make sure that everything was in order and that passengers were given the right to choose.
"We have not received any such complaints from our investigators or through our customer service centre," he said.
Mr Dares added that TransAd was not responsible for the private cars, and that they were hired through private companies by the Abu Dhabi Airports Company (Adac).
Syed Abdul Hakeem, the general manager of Emirates Taxi and Fast Limo, one of the private car providers to Adac, confirmed that no such prioritisation existed.
"Ever since TransAd came into play, taxis are always available to passengers."
He said that private cars were sometimes parked in the queue waiting for passengers who had already pre-booked their trip.
Nouh al Kharousi, a curb-side supervisor at Abu Dhabi airport, also insisted that passengers were given the option of choosing between the limos and the silver cabs.
"There is no opportunity for this behaviour," he said. "The passenger has the right to choose which taxi they prefer. There are two separate lines, one for the private-hire cars and one for the silver taxis."
A signboard that listed all the rates for the private cars in Arabic and English was also available at the taxi stand, Mr al Kharousi added.
However, even drivers of the silver taxis complained of ushers prioritising the limousines over their services.
"All the silver taxis are parked in the back while the private cars are at the front," a Filipino taxi driver from Tawasul said. "Sometimes I have to wait a good three hours before I get a passenger."
The driver added that sometimes passengers were sent to the silver cabs for shorter trips that barely amount to Dh25.
"If it is a longer trip they are sent to the limos. This also makes it very difficult for us to reach our target and earn our basic salary," he said.