Driving in taxis in the Gulf
IT is a proven fact, as confirmed by residents and visitors alike, that the Gulf is the only place in the world, where the taxi drivers hail you and not the other way around!
Today, using taxis in, say Dubai, is a more comfortable experience than it used to be. The Dubai authorities have got a grip of the ‘cowboys’, most of whom have returned to their own countries, their dilapidated wrecks taken off the roads and now there are new taxis – silver, white or beige coloured – with professional drivers in uniforms.
Taxis often seem to be used in the main by residents, who do not have a car, visitors or evening partygoers. As a resident of Dubai who does not enjoy looking for a parking slot at the shopping malls, City Centre in particular, I always find it more convenient to park my car in Jumeirah and travel the rest of the way into the metropolis by taxi. I like taxis, they are omnipresent, reasonably priced and they now have meters.
Another reason for my frequent use of Dubai’s taxis is that I am afflicted with a total lack of sense of direction. Thus it would be disastrous if I were to drive myself to a press conference in town for instance as the whole event would be long over before I even arrived at the venue.
Now and again it can be somewhat worrying when the drivers are tired having sometimes worked too long hours. We once had a taxi driver, who fell asleep on us, while we were waiting in the usual traffic jam on the Sheikh Zayed Road in the early evening. My husband woke him up by telling him that the rest of the traffic was moving – we thought the snoring was the stationary car rattling.
Sometimes it can be frustrating when the drivers can find only the main landmarks. What a delight in London, where the cab drivers have to cycle the streets to learn all about the capital to gain ‘the knowledge’, before taking their extreme and severe taxi driver’s test.
In the Gulf, the drivers seem to drive by instinct and often lose the way. It is appreciated that many roads are marked only by numbers and they are rarely used – except on maps on pizza takeaway walls! It is quite the norm for expats and nationals to direct the driver to "the road with the two palm trees on the corner, next to the white mosque, near the sea road".
I dislike drivers who believe they are Michael Schumacher. The Gulf roads are among the most dangerous in the world – not the roads themselves, they are superb – but the road hogs! The accident figures read like a horror story due to the terrible standard of driving from a small proportion of drivers, who seem to have never had a driving lesson in their lives.
I dislike drivers, who for some peculiar reason, seem to think that turning off the air-conditioning somehow protects their engine for future clients – or something like that. I have yelled and left taxis, which started to resemble saunas, because of the stupidity of such drivers.
I dislike drivers, who have ‘no smoking’ signs plastered all over the back of the cab, but then light up themselves. Paradoxically, I am a smoker, but I detest getting into a cab reeking of smoke.
But most of all I dislike drivers, who use their mobile phones incessantly while driving me somewhere. This is quite unforgiving as well as terribly dangerous.
I also dislike drivers, who stop for petrol within minutes of you hiring the taxi. I resent drivers eating while driving me. I can appreciate drivers stopping for a Coke or water, as the temperatures here are quite trying in the summer months. But I once had a driver, who wanted to stop for a pizza!
Most taxi drivers are polite and quiet, one can always ask them to turn down the music, if it is too loud or obnoxious but sometimes you encounter a driver, who wants to pour his heart out to you due to loneliness or homesickness and that can be rather a trying experience.
I appreciate drivers who help me out with my purchases after a longish session of ‘retail therapy’ or a visit to the supermarket.
I recently had a satisfying spree at the BurJuman Centre. Exiting the mall with umpteen bags, the driver at the head of the taxi queue jumped out and carefully deposited my bags on the backseat, held the door for me to enter the taxi and politely enquired where I wanted to go. Sure, it does happen, not often but enough times for one passenger at least to be grateful.