BY RAYNALD C RIVERA & FAZEENA SALEEM
DOHA: The meagre salary taxi drivers receive is among the major reasons that force them to dupe passengers in order to earn extra bucks.
Aggrieved passengers arguing with taxi drivers over a costly ride has been a common scene lately. Even though much has been said and written about this in the local media, it seems all the talk has fallen on deaf ears, and no solution is at hand.
While some drivers manipulate the taxi meter to their advantage, others don’t use it at all, and instead negotiate a fare with the customers that is much higher than the metered fare.
Hamid, a Karwa driver, doesn’t use the meter and admits he usually charges five to ten riyals more to compensate for his low income, which is inadequate to cover his and his family’s needs.
He works on a rental basis and says making an honest living using the meter would not do any good for his family of five.
“When I used to switch on the meter I hardly made the QR265 rental fee, but now that I have stopped using it, I am able to raise the rental fee, and on top of that earn QR80 to QR200 daily,” he said.
“We are only allowed 11 hours of work daily, so every moment counts. But traffic jams caused by road construction are everywhere, which adds to our woes. Normally it takes around 10 minutes to travel from City Centre to Mansoura, but now it takes 20 to 30 minutes; imagine how much time I lose,” he said, attributing the higher than normal fare he charges to traffic congestion.
He said the time allocated for them to work was not enough, and that if given the chance he was willing to work additional hours to reach his daily target.
“Another problem is when we return the taxi late by even one minute, we are charged QR27,” he said, adding that QR27 was the minimum charge and it goes up by the hour.
Hamid also bemoans his living conditions, which include strict prohibitions on cooking and doing laundry in their living quarters.
“We understand it is company policy, but the monthly laundry fee is QR35, so I asked a friend of mine if I could wash my clothes in his house,” he said.
For food he goes to cheap cafeterias. Sometimes some regular customers and friends offer him free meals.
Karwa drivers who receive a fixed salary get QR1,200 a month, “but the company prefers the rental basis because they make a lucrative business out of it,” Hamid said.
Following a strike, Al Million taxi drivers pay QR220 as rental to the company for 12 hours and QR280 as a full day’s rental. New drivers who work for a salary are paid QR1,200 by the company.
However, after three or six months they too have to work under the rental system.
Drivers with Alijarah are paid a monthly salary with a 26 percent monthly commission for every QR 10,000 they earn. The drivers refused to accept the rental system and convinced the management to pay a monthly salary after a strike held three months ago. They have been provided with good and comfortable accommodation.
“I receive QR1,400 a month, and I have to remit at least QR200 after working 12 hours every day; so when I reach that amount I don’t use the meter anymore,” said a driver from Alijarah, adding that many of his colleagues did the same.
But, he said, there had been cases of drivers intentionally remitting less than the minimum amount for many days, sometimes for months, “so that they get terminated and can return to their country.”
“They are those who cannot cope with the situation and just want to go back home without finishing their contract. But they don’t have money to pay for the plane ticket, that’s why termination is an option for them.”
Despite the odds, he said, he would continue in his job here as it was still better to work here than his home country, “I just have to work harder for my family, especially my wife, who is battling an illness.”
However, several drivers complain that they were shown a different picture about working and living conditions here when they were hired in their home countries.
Al Million drivers say they were shown photos of villas, some with swimming pools, which were supposed to be their accommodation. Once here, they ended up living in rooms shared by eight persons.
“We were promised big perks when they hired us. A monthly salary of QR1,200, with additional overtime payment and living allowance, but it was different when we started the job here,” said an Al Million driver working here for over a year.
Another driver from Alijarah said that he was hired as a limousine driver and forced to drive taxis. “I have a Qatar driver’s licence and have worked here before. I wouldn’t have come here if had known it’s a taxi driver’s job,” said a driver working with Alijarah for nine months and who has decided to quit the job after completing one year.
While most passengers argue with taxi drivers about overcharging, others have come to understand their plight and even offer them tips.
“Whenever they hear my story, they take pity and tip me, generously at times,” said a Karwa driver. Upon hearing of the recent strike by Al Million drivers, he said the management did not see it coming, but “for us it was something expected.”
Even in a rich country like Qatar, public transport is very much needed as not everyone here can afford or drive a car, what with the recent curbs on issuing of new driving licences, which are now limited to certain categories of professionals.
“Taxi managements should realise that we are the ones behind the steering wheel, and without drivers the daily business would be paralysed,” he said.