x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Housing charge is unfair on Abu Dhabi taxi drivers

Cabbies are essential to the city and they deserve better.

The busier Abu Dhabi gets, the more taxis it is bound to need. And, in the absence of an extensive public transport system, taxis have become an essential part of the emirate’s transport infrastructure. Without them the city would simply stop functioning.

To meet this growing demand, the number of cabbies working in the emirate is expected to increase to 10,000 drivers by the end of the year. This also means those employees will need somewhere to live. Unfortunately, plans to build three new “taxi villages” have stalled. This accommodation – in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Gharbia – would not only have been affordable, it would have offered adequate parking as well as additional services such as car-washing facilities and on-site mechanics.

As The National reported yesterday, in the absence of these “taxi villages”, drivers continue to live in labour camps or cramped private accommodation. Most currently reside in Workers’ Village and International City in Mussaffah, although some prefer to live on-island in multi-occupancy, mid-rise buildings.

As part of their contracts, all drivers are deducted Dh500 from their salaries as an accommodation charge, regardless of whether they live in the Mussaffah compound or not.

Those who do, complain that the accommodation is inadequate: they aren’t allowed to cook there or bring food inside the compound, are often unable to park their vehicles at the end of a long shift and there is nowhere for them to carry out simple repairs to their cabs or even wash them.

It is in all of our interests that the needs of the emirate’s taxi drivers are addressed. That must mean the Dh500 accommodation charge being dropped if a driver opts out of the official housing scheme.

Taxis are a part of our lives and a key component of the city’s transport solutions. Improving the living and working conditions of taxi drivers is, ultimately, an investment in the city, in road safety, in infrastructure and in the people who help drive Abu Dhabi forward.

Other areas of their working lives need to be looked at, but it is safe to assume that a driver who lives in decent accommodation with adequate facilities is less likely to drive erratically on the roads than one who does not.