Passengers’ safety must be the priority

Taxi drivers and the companies that employ them should agree over work practices

Some Abu Dhabi taxi drivers are working dangerously long hours. (Delores Johnson / The National )
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Taxis are an essential part of the transportation mix in Abu Dhabi and across the UAE. They offer an efficient, modestly-priced means of getting around our ever-­expanding cities, and they help to minimise the number of private vehicles on our busy roads. But, as The National reported yesterday, there are concerns over the way the system operates, and disagreement about work practices between taxi drivers on one side and their employers and the industry regulator on the other.

The Centre for Regulation of Transport by Hire Cars (TransAD), and taxi companies say that many drivers are refusing to work under a two-shift system, where each vehicle would have two drivers per day. Their argument is that, after accounting for rest and meal breaks and handover time, this should ensure that no driver exceeds the UAE’s maximum prescribed work shift of eight hours. Some drivers say they need to work 13 hours a day or more to reach their targets and earn extra money from commission. Taxi operators say that no driver is forced to work long hours, and that some of them choose only to work during peak hours.

It is clear that both sides have a point. The taxi companies have a right to maximise the return they make on their vehicles by keeping them on the road 24 hours a day. The drivers have a right to earn a living wage – which, for most of them, means being able to keep themselves and remit money to support their families. It is in the interests of both sides to find ways that make it possible for all drivers to earn a fair wage from the mandated eight-hour day, allowing for one day off each week. If the double-shift system is to work, it must be structured in a way that gives all drivers the option of driving during the lucrative peak hours at least half of the time. The companies could also look at more efficient ways to connect taxis with potential passengers, and, if need be, restructure targets and commission rates, and perhaps even fares.

Prevailing over all of this is that passengers and other road users have the right to expect that taxi drivers are not working excessive hours and are alert at all times they are behind the wheel. A car can be a deadly weapon in the hands of somebody who is tired or stressed.

To do this, TransAD could look at using the technology that already exists in taxis to monitor taxi drivers’ hours and ensure they do not put lives – including their own – at risk.