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We were happily wittering away on the radio this morning, running through the local news (which is normally what we do for the first 10 minutes of the episode of Dubai Today I co-host every Tuesday - podcast here) when I happened to read down a story I'd printed out from Gulf News for us to talk about. It was datelined Abu Dhabi and talks about a dispute between some taxi drivers and their company.
Halfway down the copy lies the real story, however. And it really took my breath away. Sharjah Transport is to charge (yes, you read it right - charge) its taxi drivers 52 fils for each kilometre they travel. The story's linked here. 300 drivers apparently protested the move yesterday.
As it stands, drivers have to raise above Dhs333 per day to achieve a commission rate of 35%. At the current rate of Dhs1.61 per 650 metres, that means they have to travel 134km with a paying passenger every day.
The new regime will neatly punish them for every metre they drive without a paying passenger. Travelling 134km with a paying passenger will now cost them Dhs69.7, which means that a perfectly efficient taxi that spends not one second empty could make its driver Dhs47 per day.
Driving every day for a month with no days off (which they do anyway to try and make ends meet) now means a Sharjah taxi driver could earn himself if he travelled not one metre with an empty cab the princely sum of Dhs1,410. That's less than I paid my company driver when I first moved out here 20 years ago. And he got a 9-5 job with weekends.
However, if you look at a more realistic 50% empty 50% full run rate (for instance, an Abu Dhabi job means travelling all the way back to Sharjah empty), our driver ends up owing the company just under dhs23 per day. In fact, in order to make money, he'd have to travel something like 75% of the time full. And then he could look forward to earning a marvellous Dhs 12.16 per day (or Dhs364 a month)
GN talks about a protest by 300 drivers yesterday. It's not really a surprise.
I checked it out with Mr G and he confirmed it. He also pointed out that with too many taxis on the street and the bus services undercutting them, they're already finding it hard. And with no allowances for uniforms, accommodation, food or medical they're also finding it impossible to work out how they can live. He thinks there'll be more protests tomorrow and, to be honest, I find it hard to blame them.
Please tell me I've got the maths wrong. But if I've got it right, it's simply breathtaking and iniquitous beyond belief.