Hailing cabs is no easier by phone

Residents trying to use the new 24-hour taxi call centre Wednesday faced lengthy waits to get service.

Operators at the TransAD call centre were friendly and professional, but the response from taxis was poor.
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ABU DHABI // Residents trying to use the new 24-hour taxi call centre Wednesday faced lengthy waits and the familiar frustration of trying to describe their exact location. On the first full day after TransAD, the emirate's taxi regulator, launched its dial-a-taxi service with 1,300 GPS-enabled silver cabs, it was clear there were still kinks to be ironed out. TransAD said hitches were expected, and passengers calling for the first time without knowing their precise location would likely still have to direct the driver over the telephone.

The regulator said it would focus on building a passenger database until April, when the remaining cabs would be incorporated into the system. At the launch on Tuesday, Khaled al Rashedi, the general manager of TransAD, said while the new service would allow passengers to call from home, there was "still a shortage" of taxis and some drivers could continue to avoid some districts where there was bad traffic.

Eight in every 10 public transport trips in the emirate are by taxi, he said, which puts a strain on the service, but the new technology would allow TransAD to better match the supply of taxis with demand. "We can evolve from here and see how we can improve the service and the quality," he said. Customers can dial 600 53 53 53 and speak to an operator in Arabic or English to request the nearest available taxi.

The service costs an extra Dh2.50 (US$0.68) between 6am and 10pm and Dh3 during other hours. Their name, mobile number and location are stored in a database and the passenger is given the driver's mobile number and the cab ID number. Reporters from The National spent yesterday trying to use the call centre to get a taxi. While operators were friendly and professional, getting a taxi proved difficult.

One reporter tried to order a taxi around 9am to their apartment on Hamdan Street. The operator said they would call back in 10 to 15 minutes to confirm the booking, only to ring saying the area was unusually busy and sending a taxi would take longer than anticipated. Another 15 minutes passed before the call centre rang to say there were no taxis available. An attempt to hail a cab on the street was futile, with drivers of empty silver cabs gesturing that they were unavailable.

Another reporter ordered a taxi at 8.45am to a hotel on Fourth Street, one hour in advance of their trip, giving her name, location and mobile number to the operator. An hour later, the operator rang back to say a cab was on the way and the driver would call when he arrived. When he did not ring, the passenger called the driver, who said he had come and left without ringing because he did not have her number.

In another case, a reporter waited an hour and 20 minutes for a cab at the Abu Dhabi Media Company building, and was forced to re-book after the first assigned driver got lost and failed to appear. Another reporter struggled to describe their location, based on nearby landmarks, to the operator. It took a few phone calls to the driver and the passenger eventually had to walk out on to the street to find him.

The passenger was assured by the driver that things would be smoother next time now that their information was logged in the system. TransAD said that if a customer could provide their exact location, it should be easy for drivers to find passengers using the GPS system. A revamped address system for the emirate, which is in its design phase, should help improve the service, TransAD said. In another case, the taxi driver started the meter before the passenger was in the cab, something TransAD said should not happen. Some drivers charged the extra Dh2.50 for the cab, while others did not.

Shakheel Ahmed, a taxi driver from Pakistan, said passengers had been happy with the service but that it did not always benefit him. "Too much time is spent picking up passengers who are calling. This means so much time is wasted and money is wasted," he said. "It's a good idea, a good system and also good for me sometimes," he said. "Sometimes I'm driving around and around and there are no passengers, then if they call me it is good."

At Zayed University around 2pm yesterday, students and staff were queueing for cabs. Sama, 24, from Sudan, said she had tried to order one several times but was always told none was available. "For me it's not working," she said. "When you need it at rush time, 2pm and 3pm, there are no taxis." An operator at the centre said the phone lines had been ringing all day yesterday as residents called to order cabs or make inquiries.

The new system makes it possible for TransAD and employers to monitor driver speed and to know what hours they have worked. @Email:mchung@thenational.ae * Additional reporting by Surya Bhattacharya, Loveday Morris, Anealla Safdar and Charlie Hamilton