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I am fascinated by the emergence of a new border crossing between Dubai and Sharjah. As you likely know, a 20Dhs surcharge has been levied between Dubai and Sharjah and vice-versa in an attempt to cut down on the problem of cabbies refusing to take inter-Emirates fares. This is mainly because of the fact they have to return empty: Sharjah cabs can’t pick up in Dubai and vice-versa. There’s a certain wisdom in that because if you didn’t have that rule in place, and enforce it with extreme severity, every single cab in Sharjah would be spending all day in Dubai, where the pickings are far richer.
Of that Dhs20, in Sharjah at least, Dhs15 goes to the company and Dhs5 to the driver to compensate him for the inconvenience. The idea goes back to the days when the traffic in Dubai was horrendous and a return to Sharjah would easily take an hour or more. Now the traffic’s flowing, it’s almost irrelevant – but it remains in place. Alongside any small carrot offered to the drives by this surcharge comes a big stick – drivers are fined by the company for refusing fares (as well as a whole rake of other misdemeanours).
Now cost-conscious passengers are taking cabs to the Sahara Centre shopping mall, which sits on the Sharjah/Dubai border and then walking across the short sandy piece of wasteland that dips down to Dubai. There, Dubai taxis are now queuing up to take ‘em to their destination. Problem solved – no Dhs20 surcharge. And, to many people in the Emirates, saving Dhs40 on a shopping or sight-seeing trip is a big deal. The taxis don’t really mind, either – they never made much, if anything, out of the damn surcharge in the first place.
It’s like a sort of dusty Checkpoint Charlie, an exchange of prisoners across the border wastelands – at the weekends and rush-hours, a shuffling horde of surcharge escapees meet waiting cabs, like sand flowing between the marbles of the system.
Now the informal border-crossing arrangement has sprung up, we can perhaps look forward to the growth of a ‘speed bump community’ – some enterprising souls will start flogging candy floss and newspaper twists of roasted peanuts, then they’ll become semi-permanent and before you know it, we’ll have the new border township of TwentyChips.