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Passengers say they feel safer now that taxis are having their speed controlled.
Passengers say they feel safer now that taxis are having their speed controlled.

Slower taxis offer a safer ride, say passengers

An automatic warning system that can result in cabbies being fined for speeding has started in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Taxis are being relegated to the roads' "slow lanes" to the delight of most passengers, who say they now feel safer riding in a cab. The speed of more than 2,000 of the emirate's silver taxis is being monitored by an automated system through the vehicle's GPS-enabled data terminal.

Fines are levied against drivers if they exceed 80kph within city limits or 120kph on other roads, such as the Abu Dhabi-Dubai motorway, where private vehicles drive up to 160kph without facing a fine. However, some drivers say the limits are too restrictive and their inability to exceed the posted speed limit will anger customers who are in a hurry. One driver said he lost a fare to Dubai because he could not drive faster than 120 kph.

"We cannot drive like this," said one driver from Nepal. "Some passengers will complain." TransAD, the hire car regulator, announced in late January that, to improve driver safety, it was launching an automated system to monitor taxi speeds throughout the emirate with a GPS-enabled meter. The system had been introduced in stages and was being installed in hundreds of taxis each day, TransAD said. Although a taxi is not physically restricted from exceeding the imposed speed, the automated system can see, through the GPS-enabled data terminal in the cab, the type of road on which the car is travelling. Warnings and a fine can be issued electronically.

A warning will flash across the cabbie's screen, accompanied by a voice message saying: "Please slow down, you are crossing the speed limit." The driver has 30 seconds to slow before receiving another automated warning. If he continues to speed, he receives a fine. Drivers are fined Dh100 (US$27) for a first violation, Dh200 for a second and Dh500 for a third. The driver from Nepal, who works for National Taxi, said the 80 kph limit on Abu Dhabi's streets was too low once he left the congested city centre.

He wanted to be able to drive at around 100 kph after crossing Al Saada Street, which, on Airport Road, is just after the Immigration Department. A reporter from The National took a taxi with the automated system from the bus station on Fourth Street to the town of Al Bahia yesterday. The system continued to issue warnings that the driver was exceeding 80 kph after the car had crossed Al Maqta Bridge. The difference in speed between the cab and the cars around it was noticeable, but the other drivers did not tailgate or honk their horns.

The Nepalese driver said that he had to explain the new rules to an angry male passenger who was yelling at him and demanding he drive faster. "He said 'Why you go slow?' I had to say, 'OK, cool down sir, cool down'." Most drivers have taped a sheet with a list of the violations and fines to their dashboard. Another driver with National Taxi said he had received a fine on Khaleej al Arabi Road, just past Al Saada Street. When driving in one of the middle lanes, he was tailgated by another vehicle.

"I tried to slow down, but a big car was coming behind me very quickly, so I could not slow down," said the Nepalese man. The system is getting drivers to slow, according to passengers spoken to recently. They said drivers were abiding by the speed limit. "Especially in the city, I think it is much better, because it is more safe," said Jocelyn Estanbarte, a nurse at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City. However, she thought that the car should be able to travel around 100kph once outside of the city centre.

Tafadzwa Tombanewaka, a Zimbabwean, said he was not sure if slowing down the silver taxis would improve road safety. "People still drive here like it is some crazy race anyway," said Mr Tombanewaka, who lives in London and is studying civil engineering in Abu Dhabi. "I guess I would have to say it is good to keep them driving within reason, but everyone else is driving crazy, so I still feel a bit unsafe."

A driver from Pakistan, working for Arabia Taxi, said he lost a fare to Dubai when the passenger demanded to be dropped off in Meena after the driver told him he could not exceed the speed limit. "I think 120 is too slow," said the driver, who has been working in Abu Dhabi for six months. "After I got a warning, I told him I could not go fast. He said 'Drop me off here'." However a driver from the Philippines said he had not had any complaints.

"For me it has been no problem," he said. "I haven't even heard a complaint from a customer. They complain about the traffic only." @Email:mchung@thenational.ae

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