Terms on new taxis fail to enthuse cab drivers

By Vinod Nair — MUSCAT: Jan. 21 – While the plans to introduce a new taxi system in Muscat with advanced features are gathering steam, most cabbies are finding it difficult to accept the new proposals and conditions. It may be recalled that currently taxi operators get a licence on submission of supporting documents and there is no specific regulation or code of conduct, including the fares. Taxi operators currently work on their own with fares, especially shared routes, decided by those in the business. Fixed taxi fares are available only in selected malls and Port Sultan Qaboos, that too bit exorbitantly. Taxis at Muscat International Airport, used to be operated under a similar fixed-fare system, are now based on electronic meters.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) in June last year announced plans for management of taxis to companies, and the work has been in the progress since then. Nabil, a taxi operator, said things are getting difficult for operators like me who survive on taxi for an earning. “We do not get enough trips, the fuel and insurance costs are going up, and not to forget the competition from Mwasalat.” Other challenges include, for many taxis are an additional source of income, they charge fares that may be unreasonably low or high, which hurt both our trade and reputation. But he is not ready to accept work under any company as it will affect his freedom to work. “No company has approached me so far and I am not aware of their offer. I don’t think it is a good option for me.”

According to an official associated with one of the projects, the deal offered is among the best that the operators can get. “Our approach and terms are very transparent. We want to support the government in the development of this sector.” He confirmed that despite challenges, our plans are progressing well and let’s wait for the good news. He said it has been not easy to convince people onboard and the general offer includes a certain percentage of commission of the trip and sharing of advertisement revenues. As per the government guidelines, the vehicles to be owned should be less than five years old, the age of drivers between 21 and 60 with the medical report of the drivers above 50 to be mandatory.

Taxi drivers have expressed their reluctance to accept the technology in the use of navigation maps, card payments and interaction with call centres and taxi meters. A taxi operator wanted to know whether he will be allowed to take passenger without being directed by the company. “It will be not possible unless there is an agreement with the company,” he said. The official added that the project has to be viable economically for any business. “It is not easy to get people to change their mindset, but the change is on the cards and we can expect it in 2017,” another official associated with the project, said.

Abdullah, a cabbie working at Muscat airport said he has not received any information on Mwasalat plans to take over the airport services. “I have been hearing about it, but I haven’t seen any communication.” The licence for Mwasalat includes the management of taxis at Muscat International Airport, commercial centres and malls and on-demand in the capital. Mwasalat officials earlier told the Observer that plans are progressing well but we need to regulate the sector as much as possible.