x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Abu Dhabi's old taxis reach end of the road

All white-and-gold cabs to be taken out of service by the end of this year.

Amjad Ali’s permit expires on June 30 and he fears it will not be renewed.
Amjad Ali’s permit expires on June 30 and he fears it will not be renewed.

ABU DHABI // For 12 years, Amjad Ali has driven a white-and-gold taxi in the capital. Within months he might have to find a new job.

His permit expires on June 30, and he fears it will not be renewed.

Abu Dhabi's taxi regulator, TransAD, has been phasing out the older white-and-gold cabs over the past five years in favour of the newer silver taxis.

The authority says all the old taxis - which at their peak numbered more than 8,000 - will be "completely and without exception" phased out by the end of this year.

The fewer than 1,000 that remain will not have their licences renewed beyond December 31 - including those that have previously been granted renewal on compassionate grounds.

Mr Ali, 31, from Parachinar in Pakistan, is concerned that he, along with many of other drivers of the remaining white-and-gold taxis, may have no choice but to return home. "At least 10 of my friends have left the country since 2007," he said. "Now I have to start looking for a job."

Unlike the new silver taxis, which are owned by one of six franchise-holding companies, the white-and-gold taxis are owned by Emirati sponsors. Mr Ali says he earns about Dh200 a day and pays the owner Dh2,000 at the end of each month.

"Many people like us because we're cheaper than the silver taxis," Mr Ali said. "Some say they don't feel safe when they ride in our taxis. But not all taxi drivers are bad."

Hassan Nazir, 25, a Pakistani driver from Peshawar, said: "Rich people go to the silver taxis. Emiratis also like our taxis. We're cheaper and many depend on us."

Fifteen of Mr Nazir's friends have had to go home after their licences ran out, some of whom had been driving the white-and gold taxis for as many as 10 years.

His licence expires on October 31, and he is still hopeful that the authorities will renew it, at least until the end of the year. That, or he would like to drive a silver taxi.

"I'd like to work in Arabia, Cars or National Taxi," Mr Nazir said, listing some of the TransAD franchise holders. "But I speak very little English."

Many white-and-gold cabbies have made the switch, according to TransAD, and are now driving some of the 5,300 silver cabs in Abu Dhabi and 1,775 in Al Ain. They are given extra training, in driving and communication.

For some, though, the old taxis represent a better way of life. Alam Ghr, 33, from Peshawar, likes the flexibility they offer. "I can go home anytime to eat and rest," he said.

Although they can operate anywhere in the Abu Dhabi emirate except at the airport, the remaining white-and-gold taxis are often to be found at the outskirts of the capital, mostly in Mussaffah - and one even appeared in a chase scene set in Dubai in the recent Mission Impossible movie.

In Mussaffah, the taxis find a ready clientele among workers keen to split the fare for their commute into the city. Students at the Emirates Driving Company in Mussaffah pay Dh10 each for the trip, with four sharing. The journey out of town costs just Dh5 each.

"It's practical and cheaper to use the old taxis," said Gopa Kumar, 40, an accountant in Abu Dhabi who takes driving lessons at the Emirates Driving Company. "If I use the silver taxis, I'll have to pay Dh100 for a two-way trip."

Karen Fernandes, 30, a housewife,does not mind sharing as it means she pays just Dh10 for trip into the city instead of Dh50.

"I wouldn't say the drivers of the old taxis are safe," she said. "But they're quite good. They know the roads and have greater control of the vehicle. The new drivers in the silver taxis have no sense of direction."

But Muzahir Hussain, 25, a Pakistani driver for Arabia Taxi, argues that the silver taxis are an improvement. "Our taxis are new and clean," he said. "Passengers feel safe in our taxis, and I'm a good driver."

Bilal Hussain, 21, from Peshawar, drives a white-and-gold cab and was unaware of TransAD's year-end deadline to phase them out.

Persuaded to come to the UAE in 2008 by his brother, Rafiq, a white-and-gold driver for 10 years, he has no plans to return home.

Instead he will look for a job driving a silver taxi or a lorry. "Abu Dhabi has good laws and it is very easy to drive here," he said.

rruiz@thenational.ae