Many travellers have a love-hate relationship with taxis. Arriving in a new country where you are unfamiliar with the local currency, or the protocols for never paying the quoted price can make you cringe when you later find you have payed three times what you should have.
With the exception of London, where drivers must pass gruelling geography tests to become cabbies, taxi drivers do not have a great international reputation.
Anyone who has tried a cross-town ride through Cairo at high speed in an unroadworthy Lada, or attempted to give directions to a non-English speaking Haitian on arriving at JFK airport in New York will sympathise. Fortunately the days when you flagged down a battered old cab in Dubai and haggled hard for ten minutes before jumping in are fast disappearing.
Dubai Transport Corporation, a government sponsored company, has changed the face of public transport in Dubai with its fleet of beige coloured metered luxury cars. The remaining private cabbies compete fiercely with Dubai Transport Corporation taxis as they cruise down the road on the lookout for hailing passengers.
Dubai Transport Corporation has also introduced bus services, a boon for a country where public transport used to consist of sharing a dangerously crowded cab with six other people.
Although there are public buses in Dubai their routes and timings remain shrouded in mystery and they do not circulate outside the Emirate.
Sulaiman Al Mazroui, Dubai Transport Corporation’s chairman, hopes that DTC will address these issues by running bus services around the country.
“We are aware of the transport difficulties in this country. Expanding the bus service within Dubai as well as other Emirates will contribute towards lessening traffic jams and accidents,” he said. Buses will soon operate a ten bus service from Dubai to Ajman and Fujairah, passing through Al Dhaid, Masafi and Al Siji. Each bus can carry up to 14 passengers. Six of the new buses will be operated directly to Ajman and the other four to Fujairah.
The Northern Emirates and the Eastern Zone are now covered by bus routes and there are plans to run similar services to Abu Dhabi and Al Ain from Dubai.
The Corporation decided to start the new services following the success of bus services to Umm Al Quwain and Sharjah.
Fifteen buses started running between Dubai and Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah with specific points designated as pick up stops.
The most popular route is the Dubai-Sharjah route, a commuter journey, where 50 buses are in place, with up to 28 seats. About 4,000 passengers commute between Dubai and Sharjah daily.
While they have been busy introducing bus routes, Dubai Transport Corporation has been busy improving its taxi services within the Emirate of Dubai.
New methods of payment, phasing out old cars and buying new models, road safety campaigns and special Ramadan timings are part of the effort the Corporation is making to improve their image and efficiency.
Dubai Transport Corporation is in the process of introducing a credit card payment system in 120 taxis operating from Dubai International Airport. Credit card machines are fitted in the taxis so that charges can be collected from the passengers.
The corporation is also studying other payment methods, such as pre-paid invoices which attracted subscriptions from 40 companies.
Other types of payment such as a debit or member card scheme are under consideration.
By the end of 1998, only 2,500 private taxis will remain in service while the number of the corporation’s taxis will go up to 3,000. Three thousand old taxis have been phased out already and 1,750 new ones introduced since the corporation started in 1994. The corporation is not planning to replace all the taxis that have been phased out because public buses will be introduced on routes within the city. The corporation’s taxis, operated by 2,800 drivers, make 56,000 trips daily, carrying about 100,000 passengers. These figures indicate the amount of people travelling every day on the roads of Dubai, which is still a relatively small town on a global scale. Recently a ‘road safety week’ was held, alerting pedestrians and car drivers to the dangers of driving and how to reduce accidents. Even within the company, there is a policy to reward drivers who have not been fined or involved in an accident in an attempt to improve driving standards. Drivers are also rewarded if they return lost belongings to the headquarters. Some spectacular finds have been made, including US$250,000 in cash and a bag of diamonds. The most commonly forgotten item is the mobile phone and wallet. One of Dubai Transport’s biggest advantages over private taxis is its dial-a-taxi service. But it has recently been the subject of complaints, due to the unreliability of the service. Al Mazroui said the problem was in the Corporation’s low capacity phone system. He claims to have addressed this problem by changing was the way incoming calls are handled. To rectify this 30 new lines have been installed. “We have been given more channels by the Ministry of Communication to meet the demand in the booking system. This will enable the operation room to communicate faster with taxis in the area where the pick-up is required,” Al Mazroui said.
The lack of an address or numbering system for streets is also another problem faced in locating the required address as both the customer and the driver find it difficult to explain exactly where the pick up point should be. Dubai Municipality plans to number streets and drivers are trying to familiarise themselves with locations in the meantime.
Aside from taxis and buses, Dubai Transport Corporation has decided to cater for the other range of the passenger market.
In an effort to improve the transport situation for the physically challenged, a service was introduced.
Dubai Transport Corporation has special mini vans to transport physically disabled people which are fitted with special lifts to transport the wheel chair into the van. For the seriously comfort-orientated passengers who want to start their journey around Dubai in style, the Corporation now has a limousine service which has all the mod cons you can think of.
“It was the obvious next step. We want to cover the whole range of services from commuters, to tourists, to VIP visitors, to physically disabled. This is our mission and this is what we are trying to achieve,’ Al Mazroui explained. Even Dubai’s waterways are not safe from Dubai Transport Corporation as plans are being hatched to upgrade the water ferry service, known as the abra which runs across the creek.
At the moment, the abra runs to and fro across the creek all day and is operated by private individuals. The abra is probably one of the few things left in Dubai that is still genuinely old and has not fallen subject to regulations.
But that is about to change as Dubai Transport Corporation and Dubai Municipality battle it out as to who will be in charge.
“We are studying how to introduce new marine transport facilities that provide a safe and elegant service.
“The Corporation will turn the facility into a tourist attraction while retaining its role as a cheap form of public transport that is used by passengers who have to cross the creek for work on a daily basis,” Al Mazroui said.