x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Taxi companies look set to fail deadline for extra cabs

Two franchise holders could face massive fines if they fail to fulfil agreements to each have 1,021 vehicles on the capital's roads.

A man signals for a taxi along Airport Road in Abu Dhabi.
A man signals for a taxi along Airport Road in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // By today, there were supposed to be more than 7,000 cabs on the capital's streets. But there aren't. And that, the taxi regulator TransAD said yesterday, could eventually spell trouble for two firms that seem unlikely to meet the deadline for having more than 1,000 cars on the streets.

All of the capital's seven taxi companies agreed when their new franchises were awarded in 2007 that they would each have 1,021 cars operating by January 1 this year to modernise the fleet. The deadline was extended until today for three companies - Q-Link Transportation, Cars Taxi and Emirates Taxi. One of those companies now has a complete fleet, said Masood Hashem, the regulator's acting general manager.

He said another would probably complete its fleet within the week, but he was not as confident about the remaining company. "They are trying, but I don't know if they can complete," he said. He declined to name the companies. The companies face fines of Dh1,000 (US$270) a month for every cab under the required number not in operation, backdated to January 1. Mr Hashem said one of the two companies had about 85 per cent of the required number of taxis in operation, while the other had just 30 per cent.

That would mean the two franchisees have about 870 and 306 vehicles on the streets, respectively. If fined, they would owe TransAD about Dh453,000 and Dh2 million for the past three months, respectively. Mr Hashem said he was not sure why the companies had failed to meet the target. He said TransAD planned to meet with representatives of the companies shortly. Syed Abdul Hakeem, the general manager of Emirates Taxi, said his company had met the deadline.

"It was difficult. Nothing is easy in the taxi business," he said. Emirates had added between 300 and 400 taxis during the past four months, he said. "Looking around for the ideal guy to sit behind the wheel, that is the hardest thing. Then shaping them up to the standard of TransAD, that is an effort by itself." Mr Hakeem said it takes three months to train a driver. Ghulam al Balooshi, the chief executive officer of Cars Taxi, said his company would meet today's deadline.

"We have completed the fleet by today, and tomorrow we are going to register the vehicles," Mr al Balooshi said. TransAD was preparing to award new contracts to two new franchises, Mr Hashem added, which will result in 2,042 new taxis being put into operation in the course of the next 18 months, taking the total number in the emirate to more than 9,000. A separate company will be awarded a contract to run an airport service.

As of Monday, there were 6,250 newer silver taxis on the road of the 7,147 required, according to TransAD. The total number of silver taxis in Abu Dhabi surged from 4,200 in early November to 5,400 at the end of the year as the seven companies rushed to meet the fleet strengths specified by TransAD. The older gold-and-white cabs are being phased out. About 4,000 remain, but will be off the roads by 2012.

The influx of new drivers has made it easier to find a taxi around the capital, according to passengers. However, some have expressed concern that the new drivers are unfamiliar with locations and landmarks. @Email:mchung@thenational.ae