Car licence plate enthusiasts in Dubai have been told they must pay Dh25,000 and have a dedicated office if they want to continue trading.
Numbers game has Dubai licence plate traders in a spin
DUBAI // The only status symbol more important than the supercar you drive in Dubai is the licence plate attached to it.
A three-digit plate with an unusual sequence of numbers can sell for well over Dh100,000.
But now, many licence-plate trading enthusiasts are in uproar after an announcement by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) that anyone with more than 30 plates will require a permit to collect or trade in them.
To get a permit, traders need a Dh25,000 deposit and a commercial licence from the Department of Economic Development, which requires them to have a dedicated office for the business.
"I'm seriously thinking of leaving this trade," said Khalid Khadim, a 35-year-old Emirati businessman who has been in the business for the past decade and owns 75 number plates.
Mr Khadim said he received a call from the RTA to say he had to obtain a permit to continue trading or they would block his traffic file.
"What right do they have to block my file? These rules and regulations should have been put in place before we bought all these numbers. Pay back the money we spent for these plates and let us go our separate ways."
Jasim Mohammed said, "I'm a hobbyist, I'm not trying to start a business. Why is the RTA forcing us to get a business licence? I like nice cars too. Will the RTA force me to open a car dealership next? This just doesn't make any sense."
Mr Mohammed said he had a call from the RTA two weeks ago telling him he needed to get a permit or would be limited to selling just six number plates a year. "I called different departments in the RTA and got different answers from each one," he said. "Nothing is clear yet, and they have an online auction this week. Many of us don't know what to do."
Mr Mohammed said the permit ruling would put a further damper on an already dying market.
"The market is down now," he said. "The RTA should be looking at ways to improve the market, not make it more difficult."
Abdulla Abdulrahman, deputy director of the RTA's vehicle licensing department, insists the new permit will be to the traders' benefit and said their transactions had always been limited.
"It used to be limited to three transactions a year, and now we have made it six a year. Getting the permit will exempt you from this limitation," he said.
He added the limitation does not apply to purchases made at the RTA auctions.
"Trade in number plates has been operating like a black market," said Mr Abdulrahman. "The RTA is trying to organise things. This permit is based on the complaints and suggestions made by the traders in a meeting last year."
Fahad Al Bastaki, who with his brother Ibrahim has been trading plates for six years, is not satisfied.
"Many traders have lost trust in the RTA. They ask us for our opinion, and then do the opposite," he said. "I don't understand what the purpose of this permit is, what benefit does it give me as a trader?"
According to Ahmad Bahrozyan, chief executive of the RTA's licensing agency, the benefits include being able to sell plates online as well as access to special trader-only auctions. He said the permit was not mandatory and vowed to set up a meeting with the traders to clarify the situation.
It may be too late for a disgruntled Mr Al Bastaki. "I just want to get rid of my 35 plates and get out of the game for good," he said.