ABU DHABI // Taxi inspectors are to patrol the emirate's busiest roads seven days a week, 24 hours a day, making sure drivers do not keep passengers waiting or drive aggressively. Abdulla Sultan al Sabbagh, who was appointed general manager of TransAD, the taxi regulator, last month, said he would personally be paying surprise visits to franchise-holders, and that drivers of the both the newer silver and the older gold and white taxis could expect unannounced inspections.
Previously, inspectors had operated 18 hours a day, five days a week, taking the weekends off, Mr al Sabbagh said. The changes are among a range of measures designed to shorten waiting times and improve safety and customer service scheduled to be implemented in the coming months. By September, for example, it should be possible to pay fares by mobile phone. Passengers who lodge complaints will receive an SMS message telling them the complaint has been logged and will be followed up.
Other proposals include standard fares for limousine services in the emirate, wheelchair-accessible taxis, discount cards for the disabled, the elderly, those on social welfare and taxi drivers, and a shared-taxi programme for passengers to outlying areas such as Shahama. TransAD already monitors speed through GPS tracking in about 2,000 of the newer taxis, some of which have been fitted with speed-limiting devices.
The dispatch and tracking centre launched in November, which allows operators at a central call centre to send the nearest available taxi to a passenger who calls for one, is another way in which the regulator can judge speeds. Drivers found to be speeding regularly face fines and possible suspension. Mr al Sabbagh emphasised that passenger safety was a priority for TransAD, and while he thought bad drivers made up only a small percentage of the total, poor road habits could be attributed to many of them having been recruited from abroad and not being familiar with driving in the UAE.
Some taxi drivers travel at high speeds on city streets and engage in aggressive manoeuvres, including tailgating. He said he had instructed the franchise-holders to start "filtering out" bad drivers once the fleets had reached their quotas by the end of this year. The emirate's seven franchises, each with a target of 1,021 taxis on the road by the end of the year, are recruiting drivers from countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines.
So far, they have registered 3,372 silver taxis since the service was launched in Nov 2007, while 1,780 of the older gold and white taxis, owned by individuals, have been removed from the streets. In total, there are about 9,800 taxis in the emirate. Mr al Sabbagh also said the regulator was prepared to put more taxis on the road. "Seven thousand is not enough for Abu Dhabi. It requires about 10, 000."