Better buses will stop illegal taxis

Providing more viable public transport can help lower the demand for unlawful cabs

Illegal taxis are a reason to improve the bus network, uust as Uber should boost standards in the conventional taxi fleet. (Ravindranath K / The National)
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There are grounds for genuine concern about the rising number of illegal taxis plying the streets of Abu Dhabi. Unlike the conventional taxi fleet and alternative services such as Uber and Careem, the clandestine nature of these taxis means that the drivers are not vetted and their cars might not be regularly tested for roadworthiness or be insured in the event of an accident.

As our report noted, many of those who use private cars are doing so out of desperation, having lost their jobs and opting to work illegally so they can continue to send money relied upon by their families in their countries of origin. Fines of up to Dh8,000 each time they are caught are failing to provide a serious deterrent and are seen instead as just a business expense.

But these illegal taxis would not exist unless they filled a gap in the market. Although taxis are inexpensive compared to many developed cities, there are people on modest wages who find the cost too high and who do not use the bus network because journeys are too slow. In some cases – such as in downtown Abu Dhabi during the morning rush hour or at the airport during busy times – there are not enough taxis to meet demand, which is why both of these are venues where illegal taxis often ply their trade.

While the police ought to continue to be vigilant in prosecuting illegal taxi drivers – including checking whether they are in the country legally – part of the solution also has to be to improve public transport so that illegal taxis become less attractive.

As we said on these pages recently, Uber and Careem ought to be seen as a spur for the conventional taxi companies to improve their service. So too illegal taxis should prompt more efficient public transport. This process is already under way, with the Department of Transport due to announce plans this month for a five-year revamp of the bus service. Some simple steps that make buses a viable alternative include express buses to places like Mussaffah and Mohammed Bin Zayed City to cut journey times. Improving public transport not only lessens the appeal of illegal taxis but should also encourage more drivers to leave their cars at home.