Testing gets under way on GPS taxis

Testing starts on a system that will allow passengers to call for a taxi and permit drivers to locate them using a GPS system.

United Arab Emmirates - Abu Dhabi - Sep 02 - 2008 : Mazhar Hussain drives a taxi with GPS sistem from Q Link Transport Company. ( Jaime Puebla / The National ) *** Local Caption ***  JP101 - TAXI GPS.jpg
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ABU DHABI // Testing has started on a dispatching system that will allow passengers to call for a taxi and permit drivers to locate them using a GPS system. The scheme could be operational as early as next month, sources say, although officials at the Centre for Regulation of Transport by Hire Cars (TransAD) would not commit to a date. The service could be launched first in Shahama or Al Ain before being introduced in Abu Dhabi. Around 1,300 taxis are equipped with mobile data terminals.

The tracking devices would allow companies to pinpoint a driver's precise location, monitor speed, whether it was on hire or available, if the ignition was on or off and how many trips had been made. "It will be like we are inside the taxi with the drivers," said Tariq Quwaider Bafleh, the general manager of Emirates Taxi. For Dh2.50 (US61¢), between 6am and 10pm, and Dh3 during later hours, residents would be able to call a 24-hour dispatch centre staffed by 12 operators, and have a taxi sent to them.

Drivers would be sent a message when a passenger was waiting and could then view their exact position. They would also be able to check how much they had earned that day and to communicate with the call centre. TransAD and CERT Info-track Telematics, the company providing the mobile devices, have programmed the GPS units with the location of nearly every major landmark, named building and main road in the emirate.

The system will be updated when a new address scheme, which will result in each street in Abu Dhabi being given a unique name, and buildings numbered, is introduced. The planning stage should be completed by mid-September and the system is expected to be operational by early next year. In the meantime, TransAD is asking users to be patient while the new dial-a-taxi programme is introduced, explaining that passengers, call-centre staff, drivers and franchisees will all have to learn to use the new system effectively.

A phone-in service is already in place in Dubai, and the Dubai Taxi Agency, which last month added 1,000 vehicles to its fleet, said it had received many complaints from passengers left waiting for long periods. Still, Sally Soheili, 24, a business executive with DLA Piper in Dubai, said a phone system could be useful to passengers who booked a taxi far enough in advance. "In rush hour [in Dubai] you can be waiting for up to two hours on the street trying to get a cab,"she observed. "But, with the service, if you book in advance, it's very efficient so it will be good for Abu Dhabi and will save you waiting in the heat."

Reem Mohammed, 28, an office administrator at an IT company in Abu Dhabi, said she had her doubts that the service would make any significant difference as long as there was a shortage of taxis and other transit options. "Taxis never seem to be available," she said at about 5pm, after calling two taxi companies and being told no drivers were available. "I guess it seems to be a problem of not only quantity and availability, but [the driver's] lack of knowledge of the city's streets as well."

Jolie Santos was also sceptical of the scheme, but said she would "give it a try". "If I came outside and saw too many people waiting I might call," she said. Meanwhile, Amer George Oweis, 31, said he thought the system would "definitely work". "It won't necessarily make my life easier, because I have a car, but it's definitely a better system." TransAD said a campaign to promote the call centre's launch date would precede the system's roll-out.

About 2,500 of the new silver taxis have been introduced by the city's seven taxi franchisees so far, said Huda al Kaabi, TransAD communications officer. TransAD phased out approximately 800 of the older gold and white taxis but had slowed that roll-out during the summer months. mchung@thenational.ae