Drivers of Abu Dhabi's old taxis ready for the road ahead

Drivers of white-and-gold taxis are making plans for the future, as the reign of the old cabs comes to an end on December 31.

Taxi driver Imran Ali, from Pakistan, picks up a passenger at the Emirates Driving Company in Mussafah. Starting December 31, Abu Dhabi will no longer allow the older gold-and-white taxis on the road. Sammy Dallal/The National
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ABU DHABI // With the old white-and-gold taxis scheduled to be off the road by the end of the month, some drivers have already made alternative plans.

For five years, TransAd, Abu Dhabi's taxi regulator, has been phasing out the older cabs in favour of the newer, silver taxis.

Fewer than 800 of the original 8,000 remain in the emirate, and the drivers’ permits will expire on December 31.

Amjad Ali, 30, from Parachinar, Pakistan, is not worried. He said his sponsor has plans to buy a 25-seat minivan and Mr Ali will be asked to be a company driver.

"I've not seen my family for two years, so I'll go home first," he said. "Then I'll return to Abu Dhabi."

Earlier this month, Mohammed Al Hosani, TransAd's director of franchise and licensing, said the regulator would not offer any compensation to the drivers. However, it is offering them an opportunity to join the franchises.

Mr Ali said he had met some drivers who had gone on to drive the new fleet. "They earn about Dh4,000 but they work long hours," he said.

Rashid, 52, from Peshawar, Pakistan, has driven an old taxi for 22 years but will be switching to a pickup truck in January.

"I like driving this taxi," he said. "But I will work as a driver for a company on Salam Street."

The new job will enable him to continue sending money home to his wife and five children, whose ages range from 11 to 20.

Imran Ali, 42, has driven his white-and-gold taxi for 12 years and will apply for a new job in the capital. He is not worried because he has several licences: one each for light vehicle, bus and lorry.

Mr Ali said he would like to join TransAd's silver fleet but he cannot read English.

Drivers who do not read Arabic or English are ineligible to work for TransAd, Mr Al Hosani said.

Mohammed Nasser, 60, from Daraa, Syria, has 30 years' experience as a taxi driver but said he is not qualified to drive the silver taxis.

"It's not very easy to get a job at my age," he said. "I plan to set up a business or maybe I will go home."

Each white-and-gold taxi is owned by an Emirati, who sponsors a driver. Drivers pay a monthly fee and keep the rest of their earnings. Every month, Mr Nasser pays Dh2,000 to the owner and nets an additional Dh1,500 to Dh2,000.

"The owner is good and treats me like a family member," Mr Nasser said. "He wants to help me as much as he can."

Mr Nasser said he might ask a friend to lend him some money to start a mobile phone and electronics shop.

"If not for the problem in Syria, I [would] go home," he said. "There's too much fighting in our area."

Some family members are in Syria, while his wife, three sons, daughter-in-law and three-year-old grandson are now in Jordan.

Sharih Hussain, 31, from Parachinar, Pakistan, is worried about losing his job. Joining the silver fleet is not an option.

"I need a job but not only me – all drivers of the old taxis," said Mr Hussain, who earns up to Dh2,300 a month. "If I get another job in Abu Dhabi, I’ll get Dh1,000 to Dh1,200 which is not enough. Most of my money will go to food and rent."

Shahab Mohammad, from New Delhi, has driven a silver taxi for two years but said he preferred driving the old white-and-gold taxi.

He has to work for 15 to 16 hours to meet his Dh450 daily target to earn between Dh2,000 and Dh2,500 a month, he said.

"The drivers of the old taxis get more – about Dh300 to Dh500 a day – and it goes directly into their pocket," he said.