Image by jtyerse via FlickrMr G., our taxi driver, was more than usually lugubrious when he took us into Dubai this weekend. Times are hard.
I call him ‘our’ because we have his mobile and can call him to a pickup – he’s reliable and we both trust him – he’s lived here since the 1970s and was a ‘proper’ taxi driver before he was forced to sign up to drive for The Man.
He’s become something of a habit for us – given that Sharjah taxis have no call center and no ‘control’, you can’t actually book one and have to take your chances on the street. That’s not a great idea if you’re decked out in your glad rags on your way to a dinner, for instance, probably the only reason we have, apart from airport trips, to take a taxi.
The downside is that he has absolutely no road sense whatsoever. How he is still alive constantly amazes me given how many miles he must cover. Easily distracted, impossibly cautious at times that call for decisive movement and hasty when caution should prevail, his performance finding, unravelling and fitting his mobile’s hands-free when the phone rings is a comedic masterpiece that he can, on a good day, extend for aching, reaper-baiting minutes. But we like Mr G.
Business is bad right now. He has to make something like Dhs270 in fares to be in the money and finding that cash is hard work – the new Sharjah bus system, chaotic though it may seem to the occidental eye, is depriving him of customers. The Express Bus from the airport to Rolla and the Fish Market costs just Dhs5 and has cut down on airport runs, while the bus from the Fish Market into Dubai is a mere Dhs10. And for Dhs25, you can get to Abu Dhabi – apparently it’s Dhs20 on the way back, because the Sharjah government takes Dhs5 and Abu Dhabi doesn’t. That’s fair enough – Abu Dhabi’s got the money for grand gestures, after all.
You can start to see how cabbies are hurting. Making it worse, waiting for a regular bus (such as the infamous no-timetable No.14) is just as good or bad as waiting for a taxi and so many casual passengers are voting with their pockets too. Without a call centre, the more expensive cabs of today’s national taxi companies are finding it hard to compete. But the company doesn’t really have an imperative to make urgent changes because the cabbies are absorbing the pain.
How long they will continue to do so quietly and compliantly remains to be seen.