Rise in fines distresses Al Ain taxi drivers

While the public applauds strict enforcement of the rules, the drivers say they are being unfairly forced to pay unreasonable sums.

25/11/2009 - Abu Dhabi, UAE - Taxi drivers in Al Ain are in a dispute with Trans AD over fines.   (Andrew Henderson / The National) *** Local Caption ***  ah_091124_AlAin_Taxi_0010.jpg
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AL AIN // Taxi drivers in the garden city are frustrated that the regulatory agency, TransAD, has increased its patrols in the city, and is issuing more citations against drivers. In a statement, TransAD has confirmed that the number of citations against drivers had increased from last year, with 12 inspectors patrolling the city's streets from 6am to 1am every day.

While the majority of motorists and taxi passengers commend TransAD's efforts in enforcing the rules, cab drivers say they are being targeted unfairly by what they call "overzealous inspectors". For one of the five female taxi drivers, a Dh1,000 (US$272) fine levied against her for "changing the livery" on her vehicle brought her to tears. "I left the taxi yard with all the equipment on the taxi working properly," she said.

"At some point during my shift the roof light on my taxi burnt out without me seeing. One of the inspectors stopped me and issued me a fine of Dh1,000 for changing the appearance of my taxi. This is so unfair. I didn't know that the roof light had burnt out." She pleaded with the TransAD inspector to give her a warning or at least the chance to return to the taxi yard to replace the light bulb, but he was unrelenting. According to TransAD, inspectors should warn drivers more often than fine them, but this driver said it was rarely the case.

"I cannot afford to pay this fine," she said. "I drive sometimes more than 14 hours a day to make a profit of Dh2,000 to Dh3,000 per month to send home to my family. With this fine I will not be able to send money to my mother and children back home this month." She asked her taxi company to help her appeal against the citation, and the company said it would pay the ticket and deduct small amounts from her wages over a few months.

SW, 34, gave up driving a taxi two months ago; he could not generate enough profit to make a living, he said, because of the number of taxis on Al Ain's streets and the number of fines that TransAD inspectors were levying. "Driving a taxi in Al Ain is like driving a taxi in a mousetrap; everyone is out to get you," SW said. "There is TransAD and their inspectors that are after you. Then there are the traffic police that are out to get you. Then there are drivers who simply have a grudge against taxi drivers. It is the most stressful of jobs."

SW has resigned from his taxi company and now illegally operates a private rental, picking up and dropping off passengers he knows personally until he can find work other than taxi driving. "Operating a private car as a taxi, you are not under the eyes of TransAD or the traffic police, and you don't have to give everything you make to the taxi company so long as you are careful," he said. TransAD inspectors throughout the emirate of Abu Dhabi are on the lookout for a number of offences. Fines range from Dh250 for minor infractions, Dh500 for intermediate infractions and up to Dh1,000 for major violations.

The most common taxi-driver violations in Al Ain, according to TransAD, are failure to keep the interior and exterior of the car clean (Dh250 and one point against the driver's taxi permit) and speeding (Dh500 and two points). Drivers who receive nine demerit points in a 12-month period, or 15 points over 24 months, or 20 points over 36 months, lose their taxi permits for a period of time determined by TransAD.

Other offences include using the horn to tout for passengers (Dh250), failing to stop and pick up a passenger without good reason (Dh500) and failing to wait for passengers for up to 30 minutes when requested (Dh250). To ensure that inspectors are not unfairly targeting taxi drivers or making up offences, as some cab drivers have claimed, TransAD says it holds inspectors accountable for every citation they issue. According to TransAD, taxi drivers have the right to contest citations with their companies, and if the taxi company agrees with the driver that the citation was unfairly or mistakenly issued, the firm files a claim with TransAD. A four-member TransAD panel then calls in the inspector and issues a decision.

TransAD inspectors drive clearly marked cars and stop drivers by gesturing to them to pull over and then presenting an identification card. They have the right to stop and issue citations 24 hours a day in their own private vehicles, even when they are off duty, except when they are on annual leave. ealghalib@thenational.ae