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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

The cheap, but illegal, alternative to public transport in Abu Dhabi

Put off by higher fares and long journey times, labourers and low-income workers across the capital often opt to travel with private cab and mini-bus drivers, despite the practice being illegal.
Private cars illegally ferry passengers between locations in Abu Dhabi every day. Fares are less than licensed taxis. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
Private cars illegally ferry passengers between locations in Abu Dhabi every day. Fares are less than licensed taxis. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // Thousands of people choose to travel illegally every day by taking private cabs and mini-buses from Abu Dhabi to Mussaffah and other suburbs.

Drivers park their vehicles behind Janata Bank, off Muroor Road and discreetly offer passers-by rides to Mussaffah and Baniyas.

When they get four passengers for a car or more than 10 for a mini bus, they hurry them inside and set off – hoping to avoid being caught by police.

The passengers are mainly labourers and other low-income residents, who risk taking the cabs to save money and time.

Particularly on Fridays, large crowds gather in front of Life Line Hospital on Muroor Road hoping to catch a cheap ride.

One driver, Zayed Khan, who has been living in the UAE for nine years, said: “If we work anywhere we would get something between Dh1,000 and Dh1,200 a month, which wouldn’t be sufficient.

“Before I used to drive old taxis and saved about Dh2,500 a month. After the launch of the new taxis I lost my job and got my own car to do the same thing.”

Mr Khan was no longer eligible to work for the company because he is illiterate.

“Therefore, this is the only option left for my survival here,” said Mr Khan, who is from Pakistan.

He said that the police normally let them earn a living, but sometimes issued fines.

According to the Abu Dhabi taxi regulator, TransAD, offenders face fines of up to Dh10,000 and up to 30 days in jail.

As of June last year, TransAD inspectors have stopped 1,657 vehicles in Abu Dhabi and 378 in Al Ain for illegally transporting passengers and 324 cases have been referred to the police.

These private cars and buses mostly run between Abu Dhabi and Mussaffah community and industrial areas, Baniyas and Al Mafraq.

Similar passenger gatherings can be seen in Mussaffah industrial area, near the first traffic junction and in some pockets of Mussaffah community.

Private cabs and mini buses charge Dh10 and Dh5 respectively for a one-way trip to Mussaffah from Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi taxi fares could reach up to Dh60.

Although the Department of Transport buses cost only Dh4 for the same ride to Mussaffah, the journey takes almost two hours.

Some drivers have been fined up to Dh5,000 by Abu Dhabi Police, while some passengers also had to shell out Dh200 if caught.

“We just earn about Dh100 a day, but if we get fined we lose [everything]. Earlier I was fined Dh5,000. In the last five years I have been fined once,” Mr Khan said.

Electrician Areejul Islam, who takes an illegal bus from Al Mafraq labour camp, said it took about an hour and half but that cabs took only 25 minutes.

“I came to Abu Dhabi for treatment at the NMC. From camp I took a bus to the city, which charged Dh4.

“We are poor people and can’t afford TransAD taxis, so normally we take buses or these private cars,” said Mr Islam, who earns Dh800 a month.

Another worker, Ejaz Hussain, who paints buildings, said he has to wait in the sun for more than an hour to catch a legal bus in front of Life Line hospital.

“We spend one dirham more for a pleasant and quick journey to our place.

“And we don’t have to wait under the sun and then walk to our accommodation,” he said.

“I know it’s illegal but I take the risk and I have never been caught, even if they catch [us] police will fine drivers, not passengers,” Mr Hussain said.

anwar@thenational.ae