By Haider Al Lawati — The Sultanate may be the only Gulf country that does not allow taxis to be driven by anybody else other than its citizens, which has led to an increase in the number of Omani drivers who work mornings and evenings or just evenings. Most of them are low-income earning employees working in government and private institutions.
There are no recent statistics on the number of taxis in Oman or the number of Omanis working in the sector. However, figures available from 2013 indicate there are 25,000 taxis in the country.
These vehicles may have undergone major change in the last four years. At the same time, some private companies have stepped into the field, providing taxi services, airport drop-offs or special transport services.
Due to a high demand for taxis in the country, some expatriates are making own arrangements to drop the children to schools, airports, churches, hospitals or other places. They carry out these transport services away from the prying eyes and in utmost secrecy.
Although some say this profession yields good financial returns, many citizens and expats feel there is a shortage of taxis in the Sultanate in many necessary places such as universities, hospitals, parks, etc.
A lot of time is spent in looking for a taxi. Some exploit the situation and make passengers pay double the fare even for a short trip.
On the other hand, Omani taxi drivers are much admired and appreciated by visitors, be it from the GCC, the Arab region or elsewhere.
Meanwhile, calls have been made by some government officials in the Gulf region, encouraging their citizens to take up taxi driving as an official profession and help modify the demographic structure in their countries, where expatriates constitute 90 per cent of their total population.
According to them, such a measure will help in economic diversification.
The agencies concerned, including the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC), are taking constructive steps to regulate the sector. In a recent statement, it referred to the reactions of some taxi drivers following the implementation of regulatory and development procedures in order to improve the efficiency of the sector and maximise its revenues.
MoTC has taken several measures to achieve a number of objectives and resolve problems facing the sector. The ministry believes the development of the taxi transport sector is essential for several reasons, including keeping abreast of technological developments, which have become an important part of today’s lifestyle.
While there is hope for developing the sector, MoTC feels that the taxi sector in the Sultanate lacks ambition, effective regulation, security, safety and training requirements, and modern technology. This, it contends, is not in line with the aspirations of its users in terms of service quality.
This requires the ministry to respond to the responses and complaints in this regard, especially those received from time to time regarding claims made by local institutions and individuals, and Omanis or expatriates, on the need to install meters in taxis and standardise tariffs. Currently, there is no specific tariff for transport from one place to another.
Taxi sector is one of the promising sectors, contributing significantly to the development of various economic sectors, most importantly tourism. It offers career opportunities to citizens.
The introduction of technology and optimal management will maximise the benefits of taxi owners and of all those connected with the sector. This, however, can be achieved only through cooperation and concerted efforts.