Salim al Ghabshi has been driving his taxi in Muscat since the age of 24 after having failed to find a suitable job. Now, the 40-year-old and a father of four children is bidding adieu to taxi service as he is not earning enough income even to maintain his family. He is one among the many hapless drivers who are forced to think of taking up other jobs as the taxi business is no more lucrative as it was before.
“We find it difficult to even make ends meet,” says Rashid al Balushi, a school dropout who has been offering shuttle taxi service between Seeb and Ruwi.
The reasons these traditional taxi drivers cite are many.
While the introduction of Mwasalat bus services has taken away a large number of their passengers, the return of thousands of expat workers to their homeland has also affected their revenue.
“This is in addition to the new taxi services provided by Mwasalat at concessional fares,” said Rashid.
Last year, two companies, Mwasalat and Marhaba, were awarded taxi licences by the Ministry of Transport.
According to a statement from the government-owned company, in the beginning of this year, 2,322 residents of Muscat had availed of its taxi service between December 12 and 31.
A total of 1,550 customers availed of the service through the call centres, while 5,000 users downloaded the taxi service’s app.
Mwasalat and Oman Airport Management Company had earlier signed an agreement to operate taxi service at the airport.
According to figures available from National Centre for Statistics and Information, the number of taxis being registered has witnessed massive fall in the recent past.
The figures have decreased by a mammoth 20 per cent from January 2017 to January this year.
While 30 taxis were registered in January last year, the number has come down to 24 in the same month this year. However, there has been a slight increase compared with December last when the figure dipped to a mere 14.
Approximately, there are more than 30,000 orange taxis plying in different parts of Oman. A majority of the drivers have not finished high school. It is not easy for school dropouts to find a job.
For 50-year-old Saif, except driving he knows no other job.
“I ended up doing taxi business because I couldn’t find a decent job 25 years ago. Still, my taxi helped me survive so far. But now the situation is becoming difficult,” he says.
Mohamed al Yakoobi, another driver, says it is difficult for old taxi drivers to get jobs.
“It is mainly because we are not as young as we used to be. I can’t really blame employers. Their priority will be young and educated people, not ageing taxi drivers like us,” he adds.
Some cab owners struggling with car repayments and other bills say they are considering taking on other jobs during the day and just driving their taxis in the evening.
Ahmed, another driver, bemoans that even after working for seven days a week, he is unable to make up for the drop in income.
“I used to take a day off on Friday. But now I drive the taxi not only on all days of the week, but spend more hours as well. Still, I am not able to earn the same amount as before,” he adds.