ABU DHABI // More taxis are being deployed to the malls at peak shopping times during Ramadan, the taxi regulator said, although hailing a cab on the street after the sunset prayer has proved to be a challenge. Last year, passengers waited in long queues at major shopping centres such as Al Wahda Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall. But this year there have been at least 25 silver cabs pulling up each hour between 8pm and midnight, said Huda al Kaabi, the senior communications officer for TransAD.
The improved service is partly thanks to a tracking and dispatch system launched last November, which allows operators at a central call centre to direct available silver taxis to waiting customers. There are now 4,000 of the cabs operating in the capital, linked with the call centre through GPS. Last year around this time there were about 2,500 silver cabs and only about 1,300 were equipped with mobile data terminals.
Each of the seven taxi franchisees has been told they must provide 25 taxis to the four main shopping centres Marina, Khalidiya, Al Wahda and Abu Dhabi malls between 8pm and midnight. Nine inspectors are at the malls during that time, ensuring there are enough cabs to meet demand and contacting the call centre if queues grow too long. "Last year we did not have this tracking system to know exactly where are the most crowded areas, where is the big demand," Ms al Kaabi said. "Now we can know each taxi, where is the driver, if he is on duty or not. So this Ramadan is much easier."
Ms al Kaabi said the regulator had not received any complaints from passengers struggling to find a taxi during the holy month. Non-Muslim drivers provide coverage around the iftar break time of 6.30 to 7.30pm, she said. "By logic, people should know if they want to go out during this particular hour, they should call the call centre to send a taxi for them," she said. "It is better than waiting."
Reporters from The National rang the call centre (600 53 53 53) shortly after the sunset prayer call to order taxis to two locations. In both instances, a cab arrived 10 minutes later. For those not in the know about the call centre, however, finding a cab in the evenings can be tough. Tommy Smith, 27, who was waiting at the taxi rank in front of Al Wahda Mall yesterday at around 8pm, said he had tried for more than an hour to flag down a taxi on the street before giving up and walking to the mall. He said he did not know you could book a cab on the phone.
"Between 6.30pm and 8.30pm it's really difficult to get a taxi," he said. "I was waiting so long and it's so hot. "It's OK here at the mall but there definitely need to be more on the street." There was a steady flow of taxis at the mall around 8pm last night, with the number of cabs sometimes outnumbering the amount of people waiting. Anil Kumar, a security guard at the mall, said queues get larger later in the evening during Ramadan, as the parts of the mall stay open until 2am.
"After 11 o'clock too many customers are coming. At that time there is too much of a rush." However, even in peak hours during Ramadan, waiting times were better than last year, he said. firstname.lastname@example.org With additional reporting by Loveday Morris