Taxi fares in Abu Dhabi will be increased at the beginning of next month and, predictably, there has been a mixed reaction. Customers naturally have grumbled. But for overworked taxi drivers, and the long-term urban transport strategy, this should be welcome news if implemented properly.
Last week, TransAD officials announced that fares in the capital will increase with a minimum charge of Dh10 for trips after 10pm. Other changes include raising the per-kilometre rates and decreasing the fee for booking a taxi through the call centre, from Dh5 to Dh3 during the day and Dh4 at night.
People who rely heavily on taxis to get around town will be hit in their pocketbooks. For lower-income passengers, it is especially important that public transport expands to keep pace. In the short term, there will inevitably be some hardship felt; transport officials must be ready to respond to increased demand by adding buses and, if necessary, new routes. In the longer term, the Metro, light rail and rapid-transit lines will reshape the island anyway.
For taxi drivers, however, the benefits should be immediate. The total number of customers may drop, but hopefully the new measures will mean they will spend less time on the road - some drivers work between 12 and 16 hours a day. "We're trying to decrease taxis just roaming in the streets without business," said Mohamed Hussain Al Hosani, a director at TransAD.
By introducing higher flag-fall fees and per-kilometre rates, the income of individual taxi drivers should increase. Just as importantly, the reduced number of working hours will give drivers more rest time, improve safety on the roads and diminish the chances of unsafe driving because of fatigue.
As the capital moves further towards a comprehensive public transport system, it is entirely possible that fewer taxis will be required. Some drivers will lose their jobs. What is important is that the remaining taxis fit into the transport milieu to the benefit of the city. In recent months, several of the taxi companies have cut drivers' commission rates; if the new fare hikes are to benefit the city as a whole, some of the earnings need to be passed on to the drivers to discourage long shifts.
Higher fares might be a temporary hardship for some. In a comprehensive transport scheme, they should eventually be a benefit for all.