Monday, December 10, 2007

Hey, taxi!

Brian Morrow's photo shows the only bit of Abu Dhabi's venerable gold-and-white taxis which was worth keeping, the wonderfully arabesque roof-sign which has often featured in tourists' souvenir photos.

But, no. WIth great fanfare the first two-hundred vehicles of the new taxi fleet hit the streets of the capital, with livery and roof-signs of screechingly non-photogenic bland modernity. Nice cars, mostly Nissans I think. Uniformed drivers, too, less often maloderous than the poor guys at the weehs of the gold-and-whites.

I spotted many of the new cabs for the first few days, but then suddenly they were thin on the gound. One reason, I was told, is that owing to a lack of drivers trained in courtesy, hygiene and knowledge of the locality, for this grand launching there had to be imports of drivers from Dubai! Maybe just an urban legend, but this morning my journey to work was in one of the new models and the driver was completely dependent on the driving directions I gave him.

Then there's the obvious price inflation the new taxi fleet brings. Here's the old math and the new math:

Journey to the office in the old gold-and whites: fare on the meter AED 3.50, I give the driver 5.

In the new, clean, boringly roof-signed taxi: fare on the meter AED 5.50, I give the driver 6.

My cost increases by one Dirham or 20%. The driver's tip is reduced by one Dirham, but that's by 66%! Guilt trip, maybe I should continue to tip AED 1,50 which would mean accepting a 40% increase in my commuting costs?

Of course we're talking about mere peanuts here - AED 7.50 is only just over US$ 2, after all. And that, dear friends in the Eurolands is not, as it was when I first came out here, even EUR 2 any more. only EUR 1.33 or less than the basic bus fare in most German cities.

In Arabian Business Mishal Kanoo once again talks sense on this topic (exchange rates not taxi fares) here:

"I did a quick calculation on the effect the weakening of the US dollar had over 10 years versus the Euro, as a standard, and it appears that over the years the Euro has nearly doubled in strength. In layman's terms, what you could have bought in 1997 for US$1, you need to pay nearly double that today."

We ex-pats from India, the Philippines and the Eurolands share, if not equally, the same fate; our fixed Rupee, Peso or Euro remittances are making us poorer by the day.

Is aesthetic impoverishment to be lamented? When, after the unification of Germany, the green 'walking man' pedestrian light was removed from traffic signals in the former East Germany there was a massive outcry. The loss of Abu Dhabi's iconic green roof-lights on the taxis will probably go unremarked by most.

I hope one turns up on eBay!

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