Police ensure iftar handouts keep city taxi drivers on the right track

Dozens of taxi drivers waiting for customers at Al Wahda Mall last week received a welcome knock on the door - from a policeman offering them free iftar meals.

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ABU DHABI // Dozens of taxi drivers waiting for customers at Al Wahda Mall last week received a welcome knock on the door - from a policeman offering them free iftar meals.

Officer Ahmed Ali Al Raessi, one of the traffic patrol team distributing the meals, said there were three patrol cars that handed out food every evening in the city at locations ranging from shopping malls and petrol stations to major intersections.

The officers distribute about 300 meals daily to motorists, mainly taxi drivers, throughout the holy month, he said.

"We want to prevent people from speeding and getting involved in dangerous accidents," Officer Al Raessi said. "Such behaviour endangers their lives and the lives of other road users."

Distribution of the meals starts at 6pm and lasts for nearly an hour, Officer Al Raessi said. Taxi drivers at Al Wahda Mall were happy to receive the packages, which include dates, water, fruit juice and a main course. "It's a really great initiative," said Ijaz Khan, a Pakistani driver with Al Ghazal Taxi company. "People always drive aggressively during Ramadan, and this will help them slow down."

Yet although officers have handed out hundreds of iftar meals throughout the emirate, many drivers said they found it difficult to track down the distribution sites.

Ahmed Khaled, a taxi driver from India, said he thought the initiative was a good idea, but he had never seen the meals being distributed.

"The police should say where the locations are so drivers can go and find these places. There should also be more of them so that everyone can receive a meal," he said.

Mr Khaled was not alone. Mohammed Faisal, another taxi driver from India, was equally surprised to hear about the meals.

"Really, where are they?" asked the driver, who also works for Al Ghazal Taxi. "I've spotted a couple last year at traffic lights and petrol stations, but I haven't seen any this year."

An Abu Dhabi Police spokesman said that announcing the locations in advance could interfere with police activity and limit their interaction with different members of the community, another objective of the campaign.

"We do not think it is of any benefit to give prior notice on the location of iftar. The officers handing out iftar are best placed to have the final say on whether a location is appropriate or not, and need the flexibility to relocate if deemed necessary," he said. "The police also find the public to be very responsive to iftar, and see it as a chance to interact with a broad spectrum of society. The police welcome any opportunity to promote safe driving practices to members of the community." With more than 6,000 taxis on Abu Dhabi roads, many drivers do not receive a meal. But officials said it would be impossible to carry out all police duties as well as feed every hungry driver.

"This role requires officers to carry out numerous duties," the spokesman said. "Therefore, each year the number of iftar reflects what is deemed as the appropriate number given broader police commitments in the community."