Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Abu Dhabi Taxis

Every cab ride is always an adventure in Abu Dhabi! Actually the main source of transportation is a taxi if you do not have a car. Some months ago a new bus system started and I understand it is good. Originally it was free but I think they now charge a very small fee of 2 dirhams(about 60 cents).
There are two types of taxis in Abu Dhabi, the little white and gold ones called "old taxi" by the locals, and the newer, mid-sized silver ones. The silver ones usually have a taxi driver that is is uniform and does not smell bad. They also always have air-conditioning, which is a very good thing in the summer months. The old taxis are usually driven by Pakistani or Egyptians in native clothing, stink to high heaven, are dirty, and have no air conditioning. More importantly, the drivers are more often than not "off the clock" trying to make a buck and will not turn on their meter (which is against the law in the UAE). They charge big prices for short distances and are often filled to capacity with "workers." The Embassy (and everyone else) warns us to stay away from these taxis unless you are desperate and then make sure you ask them if they have a meter---which means you demand they turn it on before you sit down in the car. If they refuse, you don't get in.

I did have one experience with the "old taxi" when our housing person flagged one down for me (trying to help me out so he would not have to drive me back to the hotel in the opposite direction from where he wanted to travel----home) and because I wanted to be POLITE (something we southern girls have such a hard time not being), I would not turn it down. I got in, took off-----which was a big mistake--- and THEN asked about the meter. Of course, he told me "meter not work." Big lie. "Turn on the meter," I said. "It is against the law." He continued to tell me "meter not work" as he barreled along the highway muttering along the way about how he was going to charge me 20 dirhams because he had to wait (the Embassy guy had the bright idea of flagging down a taxi BEFORE he hurriedly showed me the house and made the taxi wait outside). Not happy, but in a residential neighborhood with no idea how to get back to the main road for a taxi, I had to stay in the taxi until we arrived near a place where I knew I could get another. I saw Carrefour up ahead and told him to take me to Carrefour. I promptly got out of the car and told him I was going to report him to the authorities---which I did. Sometimes if you punch in 999 (direct to police station) in your cell phone and show it to them with your finger poised on the call button, they will start the meter. Not this guy! So, I got a free ride to Carrefour and hopped another taxi.

The silver taxis are the best bet with nice taxi drivers who want to get you where you want to go without any problems from their boss. Most of them are well-dressed in their uniform, turn the meter on promptly, insist you wear a seat belt, and try to make a little conversation along the way. They are usually Sri Lanken or Indian and speak decent English, some better than others. I now have a list of about ten taxi drivers with their names, cell phone, and cab number so I can call them directly to request a ride. Their cab number is very important, I learned. I called one once to pick me up at the mall, came outside, and discovered about 20 cabs coming and going. I had no idea which one was mine!!!! I had to call him to find out where he was in the line! I compiled this list from the ones I felt were nice, clean taxis and good drivers. I had one the other day that had his left foot tucked under him and he drove like a maniac. I didn't have to worry for long as I got where I was going fast. I didn't add his name to the list. He scared me a little. I have one guy I call frequently named Mathew George---he proudly professed to me he is "born again Christian" and showed me his cross on his mirror. He is always polite and has a very clean cab. He also asked if I needed to hire a driver. He would like to have a job as a private driver. Many of the Emirati have drivers and provide them a room for living---the same as the housekeepers.

I also like Mathew because we got in a wreck together. Only two weeks into my arrival in Abu Dhabi, Mathew picked me up from the Shangri-La Hotel for a morning excursion to the Marina Mall (I'll talk about Malls another time---that is another whole blog!). We were tootling along on the Coast Highway about 40 mph (Mathew is not a really fast driver) when this truck in the far left lane just turns across the four lane highway right in front of our car. Don't have any idea where he was going. Looked like he was trying to make a U-turn in the middle of the road. We were in the middle lane minding our own business. Mathew didn't even have time to swerve the car----we just slammed into the truck. Mathew just sat there for a few mintues like he was in disbelief. We pulled over and the police came and I saw lots of finger pointing and hand gesturing and heard lots of Arabic back and forth. After a while, Mathew walked around the front of the vehicle, surveyed the damage, got on his cell phone talking rapidly to someone, and then announced he could still drive the car and he would take me on to my destination. So we got back in the car and drove to my house, crumpled up hood and all. "Only in the UAE!!!"

When you get a taxi you need to know where you are going. It's a small island and the streets are laid out very easily, with even number streets running up and down the island, and odds running across. Sounds simple right? We only wish it was simple! Ha! Many of the streets are called by 2 different names and some 3. Zayed the First is also 7th, but the locals call it Electra. This was quite confusing at first, and then it just becomes amusing. The cabbies mostly use landmarks to get around. Addresses don't exist so you just give them a general idea and point a lot! So I tell my cabs, go to Kuwaiti Embassy (which is across the street from my Villa) and Otaiba school, which is right next door to my house, then I say 23 street ---not 23rd street. They don't get the rd part. Then I also back that up with Al Mushrif which is an old neighborhood and most of them know it. Then if all else fails I say "near the Mushrif Co-Op Society", the neighborhood Walmart. With all of these landmarks, I can get in the general direction and point them to my house! I can't say Otaiba #3 on such and such a street. My street has no name anyway. Sometimes it gets confusing. They will ask me a question i.e. "we go make u-turn?" I respond, "right." (meaning yes) Then, they try to turn right. Then, I say "no, no, no. I mean yes." Then, of course, the next direction I need to give them is "turn right." So I say, "turn right, then make an immediate left." What do you think they try to do? Turn left, of course. I know they think I am crazy and I think they are crazy. It's a hoot.

The thing I like most about the taxis is that they are always an adventure and very cheap. It costs me between $5.50 to $8.00 to go from my Villa into the main part of the city, depending on my destination. It's less than $3.00 to go to the Carrefour near my house. And most of the time, I can step out to the corner right outside my Villa and hail a taxi. I often call one about 30 minutes before I need it and tell them what time to be outside. So traveling by taxi is not so bad. It is only when I have to stand in the que at the mall with a buggy full of groceries and it is over 100 degrees outside!!!!

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