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The Air Bag: If higher taxi fares means safer roads, then it's worth it

Fare hikes in Abu Dhabi are not necessarily a bad move, especially if it means the overworked drivers will benefit.

A few years ago, in my first few months here in Abu Dhabi, I stepped into an old, gold-and-white taxi with a friend to go downtown for a bite to eat, still marvelling at how cheap it was to travel by cab in the city.

The ride was, to put it in the mildest of terms, exciting; the old Pakistani man with a long, white beard behind the wheel would hammer the throttle down the street only to slam on the brakes and stop just inches from traffic, muttering all the way. My friend and I were clutching our seats and looking at each other with wide eyes, and by the time we arrived we were glad to get out. My friend handed the driver a five-dirham note, which he promptly brought up close to his face - he couldn't see it otherwise. We felt lucky that night.

I'm glad to say that things have changed considerably since those days; the newer silver taxis on Abu Dhabi's streets are cleaner, in better condition, more plentiful and accessible, have set rates and are even powered by natural gas. Plus, the drivers seem to be much better behaved on the road - to varying degrees, at least. The rates are a little more expensive than the old cabs but still more than affordable to use taxis on a regular basis. The only downside with our new, more regimented cab system seems to be fewer horror stories of crazy rides to share around the water cooler at the office the next day.

Now, TransAD, the governing body of Abu Dhabi's taxis, has announced it will be raising the per-kilometre rates of the silver cabs, from Dh1.33 to Dh1.6, with a minimum charge of Dh10 after 10pm. Cue the grumbling around said water cooler.

C'mon, people! Quit the belly aching; for western expats especially, this is still an outlandish bargain compared with the taxi rates in Europe and North America, where you'd expect to pay two or three times the price. For many, it will still be feasible to get by in Abu Dhabi without owning a car.

That's more than you can say for residents of Dubai; rates there are higher than the capital's, with a minimum Dh10 charge no matter the time of day. If you have to travel across that expansive city every day, it's actually cheaper to rent or buy a car than it is to use taxis.

In fact, taxis in Abu Dhabi will still be cheap enough that, even if you do own a car, it's sometimes less expensive to use a cab than it is to take your own vehicle, use your own petrol and then pay for Mawaqif parking, depending on your destination. Think about that one.

But the biggest benefit with these higher rates will, hopefully, go towards the taxi drivers. I say hopefully with the caveat that their own monthly minimum sales quotas won't be raised along with the rates; these guys are already driving between 12 and 16 hours each day, and allowing them to earn a bit more money and take a bit more time off is not only good for their morale and wellbeing but, by reducing their fatigue, it will make our roads safer.

I don't know about you, but I'd pay extra for that.

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