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Day 23: Big yellow-signed taxis

When a friend visited Dublin about a year ago, the very first thing he noticed and pointed out to me was the number of taxis in the city. They are absolutely everywhere. Reports at that time had it peg at 25,000 of them servicing Dublin, but as you can see from the taxi identifier number, it wouldn’t be too far off the mark to say there are a lot more of them on the road today.

I am not one who hail taxis on a regular basis, but I have observed something odd recently – there have been a number of taxis of which the driver doesn’t look anything like the person on the displayed licence (a case of bad ID photo?) and at times, I doubt the name is even the driver’s (e.g. very Irish name on display but the driver speaks with a foreign accent). I am quite sure driving taxi with someone else’s licence is not legal.

There have been reports of illegal drivers operating in the city, with a few of them sharing a single taxi/licence by working in shifts. This is dangerous, considering these drivers would most likely be uninsured, have not been vetted by the Garda, and may even be living here illegally and/or owning false driving licences. The crackdown process have been slow, much to the consternation and annoyance of genuine taxi drivers in their city, as their livelihood and their trade are under threat.

Don’t you mind the taxi driver…

To get from one place to another in the UAE, unless you drive (or have a host/ friend driving you), you’ll most likely be travelling by taxi. Public transport like buses can be infrequent and irregular, and the last thing you want is to wait out under the hot sun without knowing for certain when the next bus will come along. I have been using taxis to travel within Sharjah and Dubai, and between Sharjah and Dubai.

I am quite a chatty person and I’d quite happily talk to anyone, even random strangers. Taxi drivers? Sure. There’s nothing wrong with making some small talks and discuss the weather. Normally, that’s not a problem, but in the UAE, it can be. It can be misconstrued for something else altogether, e.g. you’re interested in him.

My first couple of taxi rides, the drivers tried to engage me in conversation and I obliged, being friendly like I normally would back in Europe. As a result, I have taxi drivers who were very interested in knowing when I would be free and if I would like to (a) go shopping with him – he promised to buy me a present(!), (b) see him when he’s off work, and (c) tour and sight-see the city with him.

Of them all, the last is quite possibly a genuine and innocent proposal – as I was obviously a visitor, naturally this would be an opportunity for the driver to make a bit more money by offering taxi tour. Fair enough. But the other suggestions, downright dodgy.

I learned quickly that I should be courteous but never friendly with taxi drivers. In a firm and no-nonsense voice, I conveyed my destination and checked that the driver knew where he was going (you’ll be surprised at how some of them can be quite clueless – by chance or by design, I have no idea). Then, it was staring out the window and not engaging in conversations at all. On arrival, I paid, said my thank you and got off. Khalas. No funny propositions, no ambiguity of intention. And also, I was cautioned by a friend to never ride at the front of the taxi when I was on my own.

There is also something called Ladies’ Taxis available in Dubai (I’m not aware of it in Sharjah). The fleet is pink in colour, of course, and should be booked ahead as they don’t normally drive around looking for fares. However, they are present at the airport and some malls where females frequently visit. They do cost a bit more though but if that’s what you’re more comfortable with, go for it.

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