By Raynald C Rivera
DOHA: When the taxis of two private companies recently hit Doha’s roads, commuters thought it would help solve the transportation problems here, particularly the scarcity of taxis. They did not expect the situation to get worse with the additional taxis.
The introduction of the private taxi companies was welcomed by the public because many believed competition would mean better services and cheaper rates; however, that was not to be.
With the coming of the new taxi companies the number of cabs plying on the city’s streets has increased by 50 percent, from 2,000 Karwa taxis to 3,000 as Al Million and Alijarah were allowed to operate 500 taxis each. Recently, Mowasalat allowed the two companies to operate 150 additional taxis each, and by the end of next month, a third private company is expected to commence operations with 300 taxis.
The problem now is not lack of taxis but unscrupulous drivers who try to cheat or coerce passengers to get more money from them.
“You are lucky if you find one honest taxi driver nowadays as most of them have devised their own way of cheating customers to earn some extra bucks,” said Lina, an aggrieved expatriate who recently decided to hire an illegal cab on a regular basis as she finds it cheaper and more reliable than taxis.
She is just one of many commuters who face similar problems as they travel to and from work every day and who, like the taxi drivers, toil to provide for their families back home with their hard-earned money.
For low- and middle-income expatriates in Qatar, every riyal counts, but many times they are made to pay extra for taxi rides by dishonest taxi drivers.
While some drivers manipulate the meters, others don’t switch them on and instead bargain with the passengers to their advantage. There are also those who don’t reset the meter after a trip, making the next passenger pay more.
Taxi drivers justify their deceitful ways by pointing out what they say are unfair conditions set by their companies, including low wages and the big amount they have to pay their company from their takings.
“I have to give QR265 to the company after 11 hours of work,” said Sudheer, a Karwa driver who works on rental basis. He does not receive a salary and has to make sure he earns more than QR265 every day to have something left for himself.
There are days when he is fortunate to meet his target, he said, but on lean days he is not able to reach his quota, and rarely does he exceed it.
“I have to send QR1,300 a month to my family back in my country -- enough to sustain them for a month -- as my wife doesn’t have a job,” he said, adding that he wished he could return to his home country, but finding remunerative work there had become difficult.
Many of his colleagues, he said, had already left the country because they could not cope with the situation.
Driven by the need to meet his target for the day and provide for his family, he admits tricking his customers, setting the meter to the night time rate or that for places outside Doha, which increases his daily income by 50 percent.
Mowasalat has set uniform taxi fares for all the three operators: the daytime rate in Doha is QR1.2 for every kilometre and the night and out of Doha rate is QR1.8/km.
“I don’t choose which taxi to take because there is really no difference when it comes to the fare. I expected the new taxi companies to offer more choice to everyday commuters like me, but it appears there is really no competition among the taxi operators,” said an Asian expatriate.
The Mowasalat management had earlier said that allowing private taxi firms to operate here reflected Mowasalat’s desire to promote healthy competition in the industry, provide more options to customers and improve the quality of the taxi service. However, this is not happening, many say.
A senior official of the state-owned transport company once said more taxis could solve the problem of illegal taxis operating in the city. However, many of these illegal taxis ply the streets of Doha because a lot of people prefer them to the poor services and high fare of the three operators.
“I don’t understand why the taxi fare in Doha is so high when petrol is so cheap compared to our country, and the drivers deceiving passengers makes the cost of transportation here impossible to bear,” said an Asian expatriate.
Many a time, Karwa drivers were not bothered when a customer threatened to report them to the management, saying they worked on rental basis and could do as they wished, he added.
The situation is virtually the same for Al Million drivers, as the driver must give the company QR235 at the end of his shift and, according to one driver, it is they who pay for the petrol.
“My monthly salary is QR1,200 and that is not enough as I have to spend for food and other basic needs and send money to my family,” the driver said, adding that it was difficult to earn QR235 a day as he sometimes came across bad customers.
Many customers, he said, preferred not to go by the meter and bargained for a lower fare. There had also been instances of customers, especially young boys, just running away without paying the fare, he said.
To make both ends meet, some drivers do part-time jobs.
“One time I helped during the National Day celebrations and was paid QR150,” said an Alijarah taxi driver, adding that he had to work doubly hard to earn QR375 a day as he has to pay the company QR10,000 a month, a quarter of which is his monthly salary.
“Time is very important for me. I have to have a customer every 30 minutes for me to reach my quota, and I don’t sleep when I don’t earn that amount,” he said, adding he was planning to leave in two months.
“Many taxis, no customers, and low salary. These, I think, are the main reasons why many drivers act illegally,” he added.
As the mercury shoots up in the summer months, the taxi drivers say the number of customers drops during daytime as people prefer to stay indoors rather than venture out into the heat. This hits their daily earnings and then more of them resort to fraud, taking the hapless passengers for a ride, in every sense of the phrase.