Sunday, 18 August 2013

Metered Taxis in Saudi

According to Arab News, metered taxis are to make an appearance in Riyadh.  I have to say, this news was slightly confusing as I presumed metered taxi's were already here!  Most taxi's I've ever been in have a meter.  Whether or not the driver actually uses it is a different story.

It's well known that you can haggle a fare with a taxi driver in Riyadh. In fact, it's common for most people to sort out the fare details before hopping into the taxi.  And if you don't like the price, find another taxi.  In the early days I used to haggle with street hailed taxi driver's when Mr Noor was on the other side of town and his ETA for pick up was longer than I fancied.

When catching a taxi outside Kingdom, for example, I would go from taxi to taxi looking for a reasonable price because after being driven by Mr Noor, who always uses his meter (for us anyway), I know what the meter fare is from Kingdom to our place.  The drivers waiting at cab ranks always, without fail, cranked up the price.  They were also always, without fail, Arab drivers.  (I gather they hike prices to cover the fact they sit at cabs ranks all day instead of actually going out and finding fares!)

These days I do two things when catching taxi's outside Kingdom.  I completely bypass the cab rank, walk up the road a bit and hail a taxi driven by a non-Arab.  They, I have found, are less likely to rip you off.  They also, usually, have their meter turned on and if they do I don't bother haggling, I simply pay the meter rate.  The drivers are ecstatic when I do that because very few Riyadh passengers pay meter rates. Which makes me wonder if this grand announcement that meters are coming to Riyadh actually means anything.

When I hop in the taxi, the first thing I do is look to see if the meter is turned on.  If it's not visible (which isn't often) I ask 'Where is your meter?' and can guarantee broken English response that goes something like 'New car, no meter'.  Of course I think they are full of crap.

It turns out they aren't actually talking BS at all. I mentioned this situation to Mr Noor and he explained that, when the owner brings over a replacement car he can't make it legal till he gets rid of the old car because two cars cannot share the same company license number or meter.

Only once the old car is history can the meter be fitted to the new vehicle and the car number painted on the back, making it legal.  Until then, though he's not supposed to, the owner allows both cars to work. After all, he usually has a driver who is keen and he's not going to argue with the extra money coming in, is he?  With that explanation I now have no real reason to diss 'no meter' drivers for talking nonsense.  I will however diss them for charging above meter rates!

If the meter is turned off, I ask the taxi driver to turn it on.  Most do so, quite happily, and as I said before, I quite happily pay meter rates.  (I presume it's turned off because so few passengers actually pay it any attention).  Some drivers, however, say something akin to  'Meter, No working' while tapping the meter with their fingers and waving their hand around after doing so, as if for emphasis.  That just gets my back up and I'm determined they ain't getting one halala extra (now that halala are actually going to be in circulation in Saudi) because I don't believe them!

So then I ask 'How much' for the fare and almost without fail 'missing' or 'broken meter' taxi drivers try to rack up the price.  If I can be bothered arguing, I do.  If I can't I simply say 'No, too much', and pay what I know to be the meter rate once I've got out of the car at rides end.

Never pay while still in the car, that would be risking locked doors and entering into pointless, circular discussion.  So I get out, then pay and if they grumble they do so to my back as I walk away usually after saying, 'Fix your meter'  in my best Arabic.  (I realised one day that I was saying 'Air condition your meter', because I got the two words confused, but hei aha, I'm sure they got the point).

If meter use becomes a must in Riyadh taxi's I can see the honest drivers being ripped off because here's something the Powers That Be don't seem to understand - Most passengers don't want to pay meter rates! 

It was quite common when I first arrived in Saudi (and I haven't asked Mr Noor about it for some time) for passengers to hand over their money rolled up and once unraveled, for it to be short most of the fare!  And where, pray tell, do honest taxi drivers go to complain about such unscrupulous passengers?  The same place they've always had.  Nowhere.

Commentators have said the metered taxi hooha will have a short life in Saudi.  Apparently it was tried once before a few years back  and the people simply didn't pay full fare, so bargaining with the meter turned off came back into vogue.

What was worrying about the report was this paragraph...
"Trip fares are currently determined through bargaining between the customer and the taxi driver, but with the introduction of metered fare, taxi drivers will be required to pay higher amounts to their employers daily when this decision is applied."
Why the heck are the employers going to get more money?
They aren't doing anything new!
And if they spit out some pissy reason like 'to cover the cost of putting meters in the taxi's' - they own a taxi company!  The loan from the bank to start the company already includes the cost of meters for goodness sakes, and if it doesn't it shows what bad management the company has.  Why the hell do the company owners need to fleece any more off hard working drivers, which is what most taxi drivers are!  Of course, there are the few that stuff it up for the rest giving taxi's a bad name.  Or maybe I've just been really fortunate with the taxi's I catch in Saudi.

Ka Kite,

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