Despite crackdowns conducted by authorities, the number of illegal taxis is growing causing concerns among Karwa drivers as well as limousine companies. “They are creating troubles in the market and making our job difficult to achieve monthly targets set by our companies,” said Hussein, a driver of Karwa (Al Million) taxi.
Hussein refutes the general impression that these illegal taxis are cheaper than Karwa franchisees. “Rather they charge more particularly from those passengers who are new in the country and have very little knowledge of routes and distances,” he asserted.
The Peninsula spoke to number of commuters, drivers representing Karwa, limousine companies as well as illegal taxi service providers and the interactions revealed that the existence and growth of illegal taxis is mainly due to lack of required number of Karwa cabs.
Mowasalat’s authorities are also aware of this shortfall of Karwa taxis therefore they have recently announced the fifth Karwa franchisee. Currently, besides its own taxis Karwa has four franchisees in the country including Alijarah (blue roof), Al Million (maroon roof), Capital Taxis (grey roof) and Yellow Roof Taxis.
Mowasalat in a recently published invitation for bidding had set some conditions for the aspirant franchisee as the “operator should be a Qatari-owned company” with an administrative and financial ability to operate 500 taxis.
While some Karwa drivers complain about private (illegal) taxis, others think that the issue cannot be addressed permanently until the number of Karwa taxis meets the market’s growing demand.
“Population is increasing with every passing day and to secure driving licences has also become an uphill task therefore the number of passengers on streets has swelled. I do not think these illegal taxis are harming Karwa business as at the end of the day we also meet our monthly targets,” said Parkash, a Karwa taxi driver.
Another Karwa driver had more complaints about limousine companies than illegal taxis. “They are overstepping their legal limits. They can provide services on bookings from offices, hotels even by individuals but they too have started picking up the passengers from roadsides. They also charge greater than Karwa taxis in the absence of any meter system,” said Shafqat. Some citizens consider these illegal taxis ‘useful’ in absence of required number of Karwa taxis. “At numerous times I hired these taxis as no Karwa taxi was in sight despite long wait. At one hand they are filling the gap and on the other creating employment for themselves. In my opinion there is no harm in them,” said Shankar.
While another resident, Sohan, had skeptical views about these illegal taxis who noted that illegal taxis usually indulged in overcharging. “Sometimes they pick up a passenger finalizing the fare but on reaching the half way start demanding more fare making various excuses. Another problem with these illegal taxi drivers is their habit of collecting more passengers from the route they are travelling with a passenger to earn more money,” he added.
Though authorities at HIA have started discouraging illegal taxi operators but they are still operating from the airport. “As illegal taxis do not have any meter-monitored fare system, they usually indulge in overcharging,” said Rifqat, a Karwa driver demanding authorities concerned particularly the Ministry of Interior to start a crackdown against them.
Defending their business, illegal taxis claim that they are providing cheap alternative to passengers. “Karwa taxis are not enough to meet growing demand therefore our presence on roads is helping residents and not creating troubles for them. I also negate the claim made by the opponents that we overcharge rather we are cheaper than Karwa franchisees,” said Israr Khan.
Some residents point out various other disadvantages of travelling through illegal taxis. “In case you forget your precious belonging in these taxis there is no chance of getting them back. One can also not be sure about his safety when using these illegal cabs as in Karwa case the responsibility lies on the company,” said Ahmed, an employee of a private company.