Independent taxi drivers feel hounded

RAK officials say most operators only get warnings for violations but that drivers should sign on with new private cab firms.

A passenger pays his fare after being chauffeured by an independent driver to Manai Mall in Ras al Khaimah.
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RAS AL KHAIMAH // Transport officials have denied fining drivers of older taxis thousands of dirhams to force them off the roads and give the new private companies more business. Angry drivers of the independent yellow and white taxis have said they were being fined Dh300 (US$82) to Dh400 at a time. The drivers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they did not dispute the fines because they feared it could jeopardise their licence renewal or have them branded as troublemakers, making it hard to find new jobs. But the RAK Transport Authority said its inspectors mainly issued warnings rather than fines and were trying to make taxi travel safer. The authority has been encouraging independent drivers to work for the private Al Hamra, Al Arabiya and Cars companies, which introduced 1,600 taxis to the emirate last year. But most independent drivers refuse to sign with the new company, saying it would cut their income by up to Dh4,000 a month. Many people prefer the older taxis, whose drivers are better acquainted with the city and give illegal discounts to low-wage workers. Drivers from private taxi companies earn a percentage of the meter fare and complain that they cannot make a decent living. One independent driver said he was recently charged Dh300 by the Transport Authority for soliciting customers while leaving a restaurant with his friends. "My friends and I came out of the restaurant after we finished eating," he said. "We were talking together and a man came up, took our [ID] cards and fined us. "I said, 'Why did you fine us?' He said, 'Standing here is not allowed.' I said, 'We are not allowed to come out of the restaurant from eating?' He said, 'Don't stand in this area, it is not allowed.' Then he said, 'If you talk more, I will make the fine more.' "They are jealous of the old taxis. They want people to go in the new taxis." Another driver charged with soliciting customers said: "Like me, so many taxi drivers are getting fined. I am so unhappy and I don't understand why they are doing this." A senior official said the RAK Transport Authority was working to resolve transitional problems with the taxis and that drivers were welcome to lodge complaints if they felt they had been unfairly treated. "We are not here to make money of out fines but we need drivers to be aware of the law," said Jason Farhat, the authority's director of commercial and investment affairs. "Sixty to 70 per cent of the time our inspectors only give warnings. We want to change the practices people are accustomed to. We don't want a driver getting hurt. We want the practices to be legal and safe." Mr Farhat encouraged independent drivers to join the new taxi fleets. "They are well aware of RAK, so we can use their labour instead of importing people," he said. "We will give them brand new cars, insurance, visas, and they can show RAK in its best image." A driver with one of the private companies said: "They made a law so old taxis won't be seen and people must use a new taxi. Since they raised the meter last year, there are less passengers. "Before a ride was three dirhams but now it's almost double. And now the recession has started, how can the new taxis survive? They can give us everything, but where's the work?" Drivers who work for the new taxi companies said they had struggled with their low wages. An employee for a private taxi company said he worked 12-hour shifts six days a week and still could not afford rent and food. "In a month I make 500 on commission and 500 on basic [salary]. I cannot live like this. One thousand dirhams a month? It is just not enough."