ABU DHABI // K regards himself as a Robin Hood of the Abu Dhabi taxi world, overcharging the rich so he can undercharge the poor.
His better-off customers may consider it unscrupulous, but K views his unofficial fare system as part of a noble code of honour that sets drivers of gold and white taxis apart from the rest.
“At first, there were no silver taxis, only these taxis,” he said. “This taxi is good for the poor people, for everyone. Silver taxis are too much money.”
But K, 24, will soon have to hand in his Lincoln greens after TransAD, the taxi regulator, ended its gradual phase-out of the old taxis by declaring them illegal after December 31.
This pushed the drivers to the periphery of the city, especially Mussaffah. But residents there say the taxis completely disappeared this week.
When some claim to see drivers still operating in Mussaffah, chances are very high that is it just one.
K covers countless kilometres each day.
“I’m rounding, rounding, working, working, so much. I’m very busy,” he says.
The arbitrary fares were one of the main reasons TransAD, the taxi regulator, brought in metered taxis in 2007 and began to clear the roads of the independently-owned gold and white cabs.
But K pushes on. His car’s registration expires on March 23 and he plans to keep working until then.
He will not drive a private car and join the ranks of the undercover, illegal taxis that operate by the dozen in Mussaffah. It is about honesty, he says.
The private cars may not overcharge but they are considered unsafe and take too many passengers.
K calls them renegades.
“It’s illegal,” he said. “They have no meter, they have no licence. It is not right. Trans does not give fines to private cars.”
Private car drivers know this is not true. They face fines of Dh5,000, equal to several months’ wages, if caught.
K was one of the last to join the gold and white fleet, once 8,000 strong. Now his first career is almost finished but he still holds all the optimism and energy of youth, or an entrepreneur.
K said he spent months looking for jobs as a driver for a company or family.
“I do this too much. My CV is everywhere but nobody wants us. Now there’s no work. I looked for work everywhere but I didn’t get work.”
Other drivers face similar difficulties, he says. “We went to many companies but we don’t get jobs. They don’t want us. They told me they don’t have vacancies.”
K said he was even rejected by the new taxi companies.
“They have more than seven companies in UAE but they told me no vacancies,” he said. “They told us they don’t want Pakistani drivers. Only Bangladeshi, Indian, like this.”
A TransAD spokesman said companies did not select drivers based on nationality, but education, language and good customer service were important criteria.
TransAD has reported that more than 20 drivers of the gold and white taxis have been fined for operating past the December 31 deadline.