x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Taxi drivers who keep lost phones caught in sting

Taxi officials conduct a sting operation to ensure drivers turn in more lost property.

Passengers are advised to take a receipt from taxi drivers that could help to track down any items they might leave in the taxi . Jaime Puebla - The National
Passengers are advised to take a receipt from taxi drivers that could help to track down any items they might leave in the taxi . Jaime Puebla - The National

DUBAI // Lost phones left in cabs are more frequently finding their way back to owners after a taxi company staged a sting operation on drivers.

The Dubai Taxi Corporation (DTC) says there has been a 32 per cent increase in items being recovered after an initiative targeted drivers who had the worst record for handing in goods that had been reported lost.

Yousef Al Ali, the chief executive at DTC, said mobile phones and laptops were the most common possessions left behind.

"We checked from our records which driver has a lot of lost items reported and a very low number of items handed in," he said.

"We asked why this guy had, for example, 100 items reported lost and had given nothing back. We had to investigate as something was wrong here."

The taxi company first had to get approval from the police and the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) before they could proceed with the sting operation.

Under the plan, drivers who were under suspicion were sent to pick up a customer who was an undercover RTA employee. The agent purposely left his BlackBerry phone in the back seat when he left the car.

Twenty drivers who had never turned in lost property were targeted. Four drivers did not hand the phone in and were fired. The others received a reward for handing in items. The company has 8,000 drivers and plans to conduct another test in a month.

"Before we did it, the find-and-return rate was 13 per cent. We increased it to 45 per cent," Mr Al Ali said.

One of the hurdles the DTC faces with lost items is identifying the car the passenger was in. "Customers should always take a receipt," Mr Al Ali said.

DTC is one of five taxi operators in the emirate and each has a different colour roof. If the pick-up and drop-off locations can be given, as well as the exact fare and times, officials can usually check the system for a match.

However, Mr Al Ali acknowledged that "if he remembers all of this, he'll remember his phone".

"Sometimes it happens to me, too. Maybe I was not in good shape or thinking of something else."

The procedure for a driver when he retrieves lost property from his cab is to report the find to the RTA and then hand in the item at a police station. The police will give him a receipt, which he then gives to the lost and found department.

Amro Al Sabi, 25, was one passenger who left his wallet in a taxi after a night out. His father phoned him the following morning and told him the police had his wallet.

"[The DTC] are very good," said Mr Al Sabi, an auditor. "They can track it very easily."

When Mr Al Sabi got his wallet back it was missing Dh2,000.

Ali Oneissi, a 19-year-old student, lost three phones in as many years. He did not get any of them back.

The first time, he called his phone and the person at the other end spoke to him in Urdu, then hung up and switched off the phone.

"I can't get it how he shut the phone off while I was talking to him. I don't know how he could do such a thing," Mr Oneissi said.

He said he went to the taxi company but did not have any details that might identify the driver.

The second time, his phone was switched off only half an hour after he realised he lost it. The third phone he lost rang out.

"It is a good idea they are clamping down on this," said Mr Oneissi, who has taken care not to lose any more phones. "I don't take taxis any more so that's probably why I don't lose so many."

eharnan@thenational.ae