Abu Dhabi moves against taxi touts

Cruise tourists say drivers at port pester and overcharge.

The days of illegal taxi touting in the capital may be numbered, with Abu Dhabi authorities planning a crackdown after receiving a flurry of complaints from cruise ship passengers. Some holidaymakers who have arrived in Abu Dhabi by sea since Royal Caribbean began cruises to the capital in January say they have been charged as much as Dh100 (US$27) for the journey of less than 10km from Mina Zayed to Emirates Palace hotel and that crowds of taxi drivers harass them for business at the quayside.

Licensed taxi operators in the capital said such a journey should cost only about Dh15. Taxi drivers are not permitted to tout for business. Similar problems with taxis in Bahrain were a significant factor in the Miami-based cruise line's decision to drop the destination from its itinerary. "The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) is aware of some instances of the behaviour cited and has already taken a number of significant actions to improve the quality and conduct of taxi and other services provided to cruise visitors," the ADTA said in a statement, adding that touting was "unacceptable".

Royal Caribbean has brought more than 32,000 tourists to the capital in the first four months of the year, with more than 2,000 passengers on each cruise. Helen Beck, the regional sales director at Royal Caribbean, said she had first-hand experience of the problem. She said a taxi driver tried to charge her Dh100 to travel from Mina Zayed to Emirates Palace, a price she managed to negotiate down to about Dh30.

A spokeswoman for TransAD, the Abu Dhabi agency that oversees taxis, said only "silver" taxis were allowed entry to the port, adding that "the said incidents may have happened with the old taxis [gold and white] as the passenger might have taken the taxi from outside the port". She said there was a notice in silver taxis advising passengers that the trip would be free if the driver did not switch on the meter.

"TransAD compliance department is closely monitoring the performance of the silver taxis [that] are taking passengers from inside the port in co-ordination with the port security officials," she said. ADTA said it "recognises the critical role it has to play in monitoring and, as appropriate, managing visitor satisfaction with the wide range of services and facilities visitors use during a typical trip to Abu Dhabi. Working with port authorities and cruise companies, we have ensured that modern, metered taxis are available to guests within the port."

Ms Beck said feedback on Abu Dhabi from passengers was otherwise largely positive but added that for some visitors, the problem with taxi drivers did tarnish the experience. ADTA is carrying out a feasibility study on building a dedicated cruise terminal as it aims to attract 300 ships and more than 600,000 passengers a year by 2030. rbundhun@thenational.ae