SHARJAH // Illegal taxis are thriving in Sharjah after higher fares in licensed cabs caused a sharp rise in demand for cheaper alternatives.
Private drivers offer fares to Dubai for as little as Dh10 compared to the Dh60 routinely charged in franchised taxis, where meters start at Dh20, and a Dh10 minimum fare operates for trips within Sharjah.
“My monthly salary is Dh2,500 and if I am to use a taxi to go to Dubai for work every day I will need to spend Dh3,000,” said Mustafa Rafee, who works as a salesman in Dubai. Finding an illegal taxi is not difficult for those who want one. Popular pick-up spots include Al Wahda Road opposite the Sharjah City Centre and behind Rolla Square, according to passengers.
“I spend about 10 minutes in the morning looking for a private car to drop me in Dubai,” said Mr Rafee. “Some cars ask for Dh15, but with good bargaining you can find one at a lesser cost.”
Police know where to find them as well. Clampdowns have become common on Al Wahda Road. Officials from the Sharjah Transportation Corporation (STC), which holds the emirate’s taxi franchise, and plain clothes police often stop private cars to check passengers’ identities, particularly vehicles carrying several people.
Those found to be carrying paying passengers are fined by the STC, a police spokesman said. The fine a first offence can be Dh5,000.
“It is part of our routine to work with Sharjah Transport to find illegal taxis wherever they are,” he said.
“Sharjah Transport officials identify the areas they want to [work] with police and we abide. Our role is only when some drivers are stubborn and do not stop.”
Vans carrying workers are also liable to be fined in the absence of a company logo on the vehicle.
“We were stopped opposite the Sunrise Supermarket and eight of my passengers showed their company IDs,” said Mohammed Bu Ayyad, a driver for a Dubai-based company. “Two were new and had not got the IDs yet and the police said we should pay the fine. That day our van was in a garage and we had used a rented van and nothing could convince them otherwise.”
The STC takes all violations seriously as they infringe upon the rights of franchised taxi companies, said Mohammed Abdullah al Buraimi, the director of the corporation’s violations department. The company employed a team of inspectors working throughout the emirate as part of its clampdown, he said.
The illegal taxis are also hurting franchised taxi drivers whose profits have already been hit by the recently imposed STC charge on petrol.
“We have two big competitors now – public buses and taxi poachers,” said Mujib Khan, a driver with Citi Taxi.
“We have to pay a new fuel surcharge of 0.52 fils each kilometre and make a high income target for our bosses. This is not good.”
Mr Khan appealed to authorities to arrest illegal taxi drivers, saying only prison could be deterrent enough for the crime.
However, one illegal cabbie said he was just trying to get by, after becoming unemployed eight months ago.
“I am a qualified accountant and am still looking for a job,” he said. “Once I get a job, there is no reason I should continue doing this restless work and hiding from the police.”