DUBAI // The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) says its new In Safe Hands programme is a personalised taxi service, and carries no stigma for drivers who are not part of it.
Last week, the RTA announced that families who want to travel with the city's 60 safest drivers could pay for the privilege. The drivers all have long service records and no traffic offences or customer complaints against their names.
But some customers said the programme left them wondering whether Dubai taxis were generally unsafe.
"I am pondering if this [announcement] is confirmation by the authorities that the Dubai taxis are not safe," said Amet Kianin, 45, a scientist from the UK.
"Why then do you need to offer additional safer services? To me, this scheme looks like taxi service repackaged with a premium price, while at the same time implying that the existing taxi service is not suitable for families and kids.
"The rest of what they are proposing is no different to what they should be doing with all drivers to ensure that quality service is delivered to all customers.
"This is not a positive marketing strategy by RTA and perhaps they should rebrand it as a concierge service."
The programme costs an initial flag fall of Dh25, plus Dh1.71 a kilometre, compared with between Dh3 and Dh20 a flag fall and Dh1.60 a kilometre in other cabs.
Waiting time costs the same, 50 fils a minute. It is unknown if the drivers involved in the programme are paid more.
"The service is personalised and characterised by swift and quality delivery through selecting a number of excellent cabbies," said Abdul Mohsen Ibrahim, the chief executive in charge of strategy and corporate governance at theRTA and head of its Dubai Taxi Supervisory Committee.
A spokeswoman for the RTA added all Dubai taxi drivers are safe, well-trained and held to the highest standards.
"The drivers we have selected for the [In Safe Hands] service are the best of the best," she said. "This does not mean in any way that the rest of our drivers are unsafe.
"This service should be considered a personalised one for passengers who have special concerns or needs."
Many passengers said they would prefer the standards for the In Safe Hands service were applied to all drivers.
"I never feel safe in a car with someone I don't know," said Loai Bassam, 17, a web developer from Jordan. "I would pay Dh25 to ride with a safe driver."
Yashraj Chhatwani, 18, a high school student from India, said he also did not feel safe in taxis.
"I never really take them unless it's an emergency because I don't feel safe," Yashraj said. "I may sometimes use the In Safe Hands service if I try it out."
Monita Singh, 34, an Indian home maker, said she used to send her children to school by taxi but after riding with a taxi driver who drove at 120 kph in a 60 kph zone, she stopped.
"I told the driver off and made him slow down, then reported him to the RTA," Ms Singh said.
"Then I met an older driver that drives slowly and now use him to drive my children.
"I think he should be considered for the new service, but then I would have to pay Dh25 at least for each ride and I don't want to do that."