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Clamor for public transport system goes shriller as taxi fares shoot up
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 28 - 01 - 2013

A Saudi woman negotiates the fare with the driver before boarding a taxi. In the face of frustrating traffic congestions in the city, taxicabs in Jeddah are demanding high fares for even short distances. — SG file photo
Amal Al-Sibai
Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — Jeddah residents unanimously agree that with all the construction projects under way in some of the city's major streets resulting in closed and re-routed roads and heavy traffic congestion, getting around the city is becoming increasingly difficult, frustrating and stressful. And for those who do not have a vehicle of their own, you can add “costly” to the list.
Taxicab fares have suddenly shot up and the companies justify this increase because of the new levies that the Ministry of Labor has stipulated for expatriate workers in the Kingdom.
The director of the Taxicabs Committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce, Muhammad Al-Qahtani told Saudi Gazette, “The Ministry of Labor imposes annual fees for issuing and renewing visas and obtaining work permits that amount to SR2,500 for each expatriate worker. And for the taxicab companies in which 90 percent of its employees are expats and only 10 percent are Saudi, this is a financial disaster.”
An average taxicab company employs 25 expat drivers, which translates into SR62,500 per year gone in fees to the Ministry of Labor, without even calculating other operational expenses.
“This leaves a marginal profit and less incentive for businessmen to invest in this sector. Companies make up for the loss of profit by raising the revenue target for taxicab drivers who in turn demand higher fares from passengers. In the end it is the common citizen and the average resident who pay the price and bear the pinch of these government rulings. It all comes back to the consumer,” added Al-Qahtani.
Taxicab driver, Abdul Hafeez from Sudan, said, “Each taxicab company sets its own minimum daily amount which it demands from the driver, regardless of how much he makes in any given day. This may vary as the company I work for charges SR140 and there are others SR180. The driver is responsible for paying for gasoline, which usually costs at least SR20 per day.
All gains that exceed these minimum requirements are the personal earnings of the driver and that is why most of us work more than 12 hours a day on the road to save up and send money to our families back home.”
One disturbing practice uncovered by Jeddah folks is that the taxi cab drivers take advantage of peak traffic hours and they charge more than they would for the same distance during the morning or early afternoon hours when traffic is lighter. There is a lack of strict regulation and drivers have the leeway to hike prices at will. In the absence of fixed fares and with no other forms of public transportation like proper buses, the customer is often at the mercy of the taxi driver and the fare may depend not only on the distance but also on the time of day, holiday or school season, and sometimes even the mood of the driver.
Um Wijdan, resident of Al-Faisaliyah district was shocked when several taxicab drivers demanded SR50 for a ride to the Corniche, as opposed to the previously acceptable fare of between SR20 and SR25.
“To protect your rights as a customer, before even getting into the taxicab you can first agree upon the fare for the ride to your desired destination. This form of verbal agreement is usually binding and the driver cannot suddenly ask for extra if you happen to get stuck in a traffic jam. Alternatively, you can ask the driver to turn on the meter so there is no room for dispute,” suggested Al-Qahtani.
Residents are desperately waiting for the government's promises of public transportation such as light rails and buses to materialize, which will no doubt ease up traffic congestion, boost local tourism, and compel taxicab drivers and companies to stick to reasonable fares.

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