Rogue taxis poach airport passengers

Unauthorised drivers evade police attention by using lay-by and tempt new arrivals by undercutting official fares.

Taxis are permitted only to drop people off at the airport, not pick them up.
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ABU DHABI // Rogue taxi drivers are undercutting their legitimate counterparts by taking passengers into the city from Abu Dhabi International Airport at cut-price fares. They operate from an unofficial taxi stand in a lay-by a short walk from the airport terminal and offer reductions of up to half the official Dh70 (US$19) fare.

Islam el Saghir, the general manager of the National Transport Company (NTC), whose company has the concession to provide a proportion of the taxi services at the airport, believes he is losing about 15 passengers a day. Police patrols in the area do tackle the problem, but it has proved impossible to catch all those operating illegally at the busy terminal. "It's a problem," said Mr Saghir. "They're taking passengers from us. We have a contract with the airport that we pay for.

"The local taxis that drop off passengers will come to the arrival gates. Sometimes, if we don't have cars, they will say, 'Get in and let's go quickly'. Sometimes the police take down a plate number and prosecute the driver, but otherwise they get away with it." Four companies are authorised to pick up passengers from the airport but the National Transport Company and Fast are the only two permitted to take fares from the road in front of the arrivals section of Terminal 1. Both companies charge a flat rate of Dh70 to go to the city centre. Al Ghazal is permitted to carry passengers who have booked, and Prime Limousine caters to Etihad's business and first-class passengers.

Passengers seeking a cheaper fare ignore the queue and walk along a barricaded section of the arrival terminal's roadway to hail a car. They follow the red-and-white traffic barricades past a section of the airport cordoned off for renovations to a stretch of unused roadway where cabs can pull over without blocking traffic. Because of the construction work, cars can find passengers out of sight of police and airport officials. The area offers no shade, but fares can be negotiated at about half the rates of NTC and Fast's cabs.

The National waited at the informal cab stand and was approached by half a dozen taxis in only a few minutes. The drivers offered unmetered rates of between Dh35 and Dh60. There was little competition and six passengers found a ride within five minutes. One of the cars that stopped was not even a proper taxi, but a new white rental car whose driver admitted he made extra money by taking visitors into town. The driver, who declined to give his name, said he picked up one or two people a day and charged about Dh60 a trip.

In the car park outside Terminal 1, one driver in a taxi offered a ride as a police officer in a marked brown cruiser looked on. Mr Saghir said the police were not doing enough to curb the pirates, who were not only undermining his business but could give tourists an unfavourable impression of the city. "They don't have training or a uniform," he said. "For a local man to use them, that is one thing, but it is not very nice for a visitor."

Mostafa Ahamed, who ferries passengers who have booked to their Al Ghazal taxis, says he sees unauthorised cabs being pulled over by the police every day. "When the car stops, the police take its number," he said. To evade the police and the penalty, the taxis now picked up passengers from the lay-by 100 metres further down the road, which allowed them to leave the airport more quickly and without hindrance, he said.

"There is no permission for either the white-and-gold, or the new grey taxis," said Andrew Chupeau, a spokesman for the Abu Dhabi Airports Company. "They are permitted to drop off people at the airport, but not to pick up." Mr Chupeau said the police were responsible for managing traffic around the terminal. "They are aware of this and it is their responsibility to monitor the situation," he said.