Abu Dhabi’s new fleet of wheelchair-friendly taxis not yet fit for purpose
ABU DHABI // A new fleet of taxis being rolled out in the capital, designed for passengers with disabilities, have not yet been fitted with the ramps or lifts needed for wheelchair users.
When the new fleet was unveiled on February 18, Abu Dhabi’s taxi regulator Centre for Regulation of Transport by Hire Cars (TransAD) said all 270 taxis could accommodate disabled customers.
Taxi passengers with disabilities may have to wait for up to two months before they can make use of the Mercedes Vito Compact vans.
One hundred and ten vans are currently in service, with the rest to be rolled out in batches by the end of the month.
On Wednesday, a TransAD official said some Vito Compact vans were already equipped with the special ramps, but would not confirm how many exactly.
TransAD expects the whole fleet to be wheelchair-accessible within one to two months’ time, he said.
Ali Yousef, franchise taxi manager at Al Ghazal Transport, said they had 38 of the vehicles in service, but none were yet fitted with ramps.
When announced this year, TransAD officials said the new taxis would be wheelchair-accessible, using ramps and fitted with locks to secure the wheelchair in place.
They can carry five passengers and are equipped with safety features and come with soundproof privacy glass. The vans have an intercom system for easy communication between the passenger and driver.
For disabled passengers, the fact that the new fleet was still not ready to be used was disappointing.
“When the story came out I was excited that there will be more taxis but then I found out I can’t use them,” said Scott Sankey, a 36-year-old Canadian expatriate who relies on taxis to get around the city after a motorbike accident when he was a teenager left him paralysed and wheelchair-bound.
“The new vans that were recently added to the fleet do not have the lift and locks for the wheelchair to be loaded in the back,” he said.
So far there are only eight wheelchair-friendly taxis in the emirate: four in the city, one in Al Mafraq Hospital, one in Al Ain, and a further two at Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Launched in June 2013, the Mercedes-Benz Vito vehicles, which cost Dh130,000 each, are equipped with a wheelchair lift, secure wheelchair fastenings and a high roof, which Mr Sankey said he found useful.
Shohel Rana, a Bangladeshi who drives one of the taxis for National Taxi, said they had been trained to assist wheelchair users in and out of the vehicles.
“I usually get four to six passengers a day,” he said.
“The problem is they travel for short distances, for a Dh10 fare.”
The flag-fall for the taxi is Dh3.50, but TransAD issues electronic discount cards which offer Emiratis with disabilities a 50 per cent discount on the standard taxi fare.
“If they don’t create more vans that have the lift for wheelchairs then it won’t really help,” Mr Sankey said.
“Adding more vans is not going to help the situation.”
Updated: April 22, 2015 04:00 AM