ABU DHABI // Rogue minibus drivers and private unmarked taxis are heading for the end of the road.
Tough regulations backed by a sophisticated tracking system are set to put them out of business.
Offenders will face fines of up to Dh10,000 and up to 30 days in jail.
"We have the legal authority to track them down and send them to court and to jail," Mohamed Al Hosani, director of franchise and licensing at the Abu Dhabi taxi regulator, TransAD, said yesterday. "We co-ordinate with the police to track them down and it's really effective."
The illegal services are popular because they are cheap: fares can be as little as Dh10, compared with at least Dh50 to Mussaffah and Dh120 to Baniyas in a registered silver taxi.
But Mr Al Hosani warned: "Passengers should be very careful. They should avoid using these services because they do not know the background of the driver, his health and medical history. They also do not know if the vehicle is roadworthy or not.
"Using a taxi for longer distances will cost a lot of money, but taxis are meant to be used for short distances. Those who travel long distances and who cannot afford taxis can choose Abu Dhabi's public transport, which is available 24 hours."
New regulations next year will cover the responsibilities of public and private bus services and operation requirements, responsibilities of drivers and their licensing conditions, bus standardisation and safety and security, and customer and quality service.
An online system to register and renew licences of buses and drivers will be introduced at the end of this year, and the number of TransAD inspectors will increase from 40 to 60.
"All operators, the driver and vehicles will be registered in our system," said Yousef Al Ghoul, project planning specialist at the Department of Transport. "We can track their record so we will know the number of buses, the drivers who are legal or illegal, and those who are not registered cannot operate without our permit. Everything will be monitored through our system."
Mr Al Hosani said: "We will utilise the taxi technology to track minibuses, define their routes, check if they are using the buses legally or illegally. It will be a combination of new rules and the technology."
The transport department has approved and renewed more than 5,000 licences for minibuses.
Since the start of the year, TransAD inspectors have stopped 1,657 vehicles in Abu Dhabi and 378 in Al Ain for illegally transporting passengers, and 324 cases have been referred to the police.
As the illegal services are forced out of business, public transport is being expanded to take their place.
By 2015 the transport department plans to operate 1,400 50-seat buses serving 165 routes linking Abu Dhabi with Dubai, Al Ain, Liwa, Madinat Zayed, Jabal Al Dhana and Sila, and Al Ain city with Madinat Zayed, Al Ruwais and Sila.
There were 15.2 million journeys in the first three months of this year, carrying an average of 150,000 commuters a day.