x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Al Ain to get 1,400 new taxis

Drivers worry that too many vehicles will make it harder for them to make a living, but officials say the concerns of riders are paramount.

The white-and-gold taxis will be phased out eventually in favour of silver cabs, officials said.
The white-and-gold taxis will be phased out eventually in favour of silver cabs, officials said.

AL AIN // The number of silver taxis in Al Ain will triple by the end of the year, with almost 1,400 more hitting the roads. TransAD, the taxi regulatory authority, said it ordered each of the seven silver taxi companies operating in Al Ain to maintain a fleet of at least 296 cars each by December, raising the total number of taxis from 700 to 2,072.

But as taxi passengers welcomed the increase, citing the difficulty of finding a vacant cab, drivers said it would mean less income for them. "Triple the number of taxis on the road will mean triple the competition for us," said Humayan Kaber, 48, a Bangladeshi driver with Qlink Taxi. "The company does not pay us a basic salary; we only get a 30 per cent commission. Right now I manage to make Dh2,700 [US$735] a month on average for myself. With triple the taxis on the road, I may only be able to make Dh900 per month. There is not enough business to support so many taxis."

While the city's fleet of older white-and-gold cabs will eventually be phased out, all will be retained until the new taxis are in place. A decision on how many old taxis will be retained will be made later. "There is definitely a shortage," said Abdulrahim al Sultani, 19, a Palestinian who works at Carrefour supermarket in Al Jimi Mall. "Leaving work I never have a problem, because there are plenty of taxis at the mall, but when I try to get a taxi from my home in the industrial part of the city, I have to wait a long time. This increase is great news."

Tawasul Taxi Company officials said they also welcomed the larger fleet. "Our Al Ain fleet currently has 79 taxis," said Zein el Abdine Farag, Tawasul's duty operations manager in Al Ain. "The increase in the number of taxis will serve the community. Tawasul is happy to do whatever it can to support the Government's effort in alleviating the taxi shortage." Ahmad al Nuaimi, TransAD's assistant branch manager for Al Ain, acknowledged drivers' fears, but said there was enough demand to support the increase.

"It's quite perplexing," Mr al Nuaimi said. "Taxi drivers say there isn't enough business, while the public says there aren't enough taxis." Burhan Addeen, 45, from Afghanistan, works for ArabiaTaxi Company and said the increase might not affect drivers of silver taxis too badly, as long as the older white-and-gold taxis were phased out quickly. "The majority of people prefer the older taxis because they are cheaper," Mr Addeen said. "When I pull up to a taxi stand at the same time as an older taxi, most people will jump in the cheap taxi instead of mine."

According to the TransAD representative Huda al Kaabi, the white-and-gold taxis have been left on the streets for the time being to avoid service problems. "TransAD in Al Ain has not phased out any of the white-and-gold taxis over the past six months, so as not to exacerbate the city's taxi shortage," she said. "We will begin phasing them out later next year." One Tawasul driver, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tawasul paid a basic salary of Dh1,150 to drivers who did not meet a minimum monthly target of Dh8,500. Those who hit the target receive a 20 per cent commission but no basic salary.

"If I bring in Dh8,500 for the month, I receive Dh1,700. To meet the target I often drive 21 hours a day and often find myself falling asleep behind the wheel at traffic lights," the driver said. "Unless the commission system is stopped when the new taxis are brought on, my take-home pay will never be over Dh1,700. In the past, when I simply rented the taxi for Dh200 a day from the company, my take home pay was Dh2,700 on average."

Mr al Nuaimi said the commission system was imposed on all silver taxi companies to keep drivers on the road. The idea, he said, was that the more they drove, the more taxis would be on the road, and the more each driver would earn. TransAD has no plans to cancel the commission system once the new taxis are deployed. "The effect the increase of taxis will have on taxi drivers is something that will have to be studied once they are on the street," Ms al Kaabi said. "We are hoping that by phasing out the white-and-gold taxis, there will be some kind of balance."

Several taxi drivers said that if they made one-third of what they did now, they would simply quit and return to their home countries. ealghalib@thenational.ae