Abu Dhabi // Mashahoor Afzal pulls his gold-and-white taxi up to the rank at Marina Mall, expecting another passenger to get in. Instead Jaber al Braiki, an inspector with the taxi regulator TransAD, opens the door and extends his hand. The two men shake hands and exchange smiles. Things go downhill from there for the Pakistani driver who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 33 years. Asked to produce his taxi permit, Mr Afzal pulls out a blue sheet from his wallet - a permit that expired in 2005.
The driver pleads with the inspector and tells him he has been out of the country for some time. He has to sign for a fine of Dh1,000 (US$372) and could face further punishment later. "If it was one year [since the permit expired], I would just give him a ticket and maybe he could leave," Mr al Braiki said. "But four years, maybe there is a reason. "I told him to come back to the centre, because I will write a report up to them. They can ask him 'What's happening? Why you did not renew it?' Then they can take further action."
Spot inspections such as this one have become more common in the capital. Last month TransAD announced that its inspectors would be on the capital's streets 24 hours a day, seven days a week, instead of 18 hours and five days a week beforehand. The aim, it says, is to improve customer service and shorten waiting times for passengers in the city, where people often complain they have trouble catching a cab.
"How can you satisfy the customer? When you control the driver," said Saeed al Romaithi, director of the regulator's corporate services division. In March, inspectors handed out 220 fines to drivers, 170 of them to drivers of the older gold-and-white cabs. About 80 per cent of the fines were given to drivers for refusing to pick up passengers, said Abdulla al Hameli, assistant manager of the regulator's compliance division.
That offence can earn drivers three demerit points and a Dh500 fine for a first offence. If a driver receives nine points or more over a 12-month period his driving permit can be suspended. Other common offences are failure to wear a uniform properly and reckless driving. Some of the drivers Mr al Braiki pulled over yesterday were not displaying their permit or were driving cars that had been involved in small accidents.
One driver operating one of the newer silver cabs that was found to be dirty and who was carrying an expired permit was fined for both offences. Since he was working for a taxi franchise, however, unlike the drivers of the older cabs, his two fines would be paid by the company. Mr al Romaithi added that inspectors would soon be able to process fines more quickly and more accurately when they start using an automated system. Testing is expected to start in May.
Inspectors will be able to scan a bar code on taxi permits and the driver's information will be displayed on a screen. They will be able to upload the fines in a matter of seconds by plugging the device into a laptop. The device can also take photos to be used later as evidence. Drivers have 21 days to appeal against fines. Inspectors currently enter fines manually into TransAD's database, which leads to mistakes about 20 per cent of the time, Mr al Romaithi said. He hoped the automated system would lead to nearly 100 per cent accuracy.
The regulator also last month created a unit to follow up more quickly on customer complaints. In the past, complaints to its call centre were forwarded to taxi companies directly. The new unit investigates the complaints by interviewing both the passenger and the driver. The regulator said it received 300 complaints in March, most of them against drivers who refused to stop for passengers. email@example.com