Poor airport taxi service mars Riyadh’s image
The Saudi government’s ongoing efforts to project the country as a viable tourism destination is reaping results and its recent move to implement a civilian dress code for its employees has helped to create a friendly atmosphere at the airports for tourists visiting the country for the first time.
However, the transportation service at these international airports leaves much to be desired as there is nearly no public transport available at the ports of entry leaving the field open to unscrupulous taxi drivers who charge unreasonably high fares from visitors. These taxis, driven by expat drivers for the most part, are not just costly but enjoy a virtual monopoly in the market.
A visitor would feel more comfortable if he were provided with a taxi service and a driver holding a tariff card on display which is the common practice in major cities around the world.
Unfortunately, this does not happen in Saudi airports.
Most taxi drivers are non-Saudis, while Saudis who operate private taxis work as if they are foreigners in their own country.
What’s more, taxi drivers at Riyadh’s International airport do not even distinguish between first time visitors and those returning to their work from their vacation or an overseas trip.
“Drivers from the Subcontinent take a group of passengers charging SR50 per passenger,” a Saudi who owns a taxi told Arab News. This reporter tried to take a taxi from among airport cabs waiting for passengers. However, since the reporter was alone, he was not given a ride leaving him with no choice but to engage a private taxi.
The Saudi taxi driver, who did not disclose his name, said that expat taxi drivers charged paasengers according to their nationality. “If a European passenger arrives, the taxi driver will charge him SR200 for a trip into the city,” he said.
“I graduated from the US but I still have to supplement my income with driving a taxi to support my family,” he said, adding that most Saudis were not allowed to operate limousine services at the airports. He said that a company owned by Saudis employs only expatriates as drivers.
“I don’t blame the government, but there are some influential personalities who monopolize the services at the airport.
“Unfortunately, the owner of the company does not employ Saudis because he can make more money from the expat drivers,” he said.
He cited the case of Dubai and other cities of the world which have an excellent airport transportation service. “The taxi service in Dubai is very well organized providing comfort to the visitors. As a result, Dubai has acquired a good international reputation in terms of taxi services,” he added.
The Saudi driver continued: “Passengers continually haggle with the drivers because there is no fixed rate and sometimes in order to charge higher fares, the driver will pretend not to know the destination and take the passenger via a much longer route.”
In Saudi Arabia, both expats and Saudis are not comfortable with many taxi operators in matters of safety, hygiene and even tariff rates.
Reports on reckless driving and foul-smelling taxis have gone viral on many social media. Drivers smoking and chatting simultaneously on the phone during the journey are a common sight in all the cities of the country putting the lives of their passengers at high risk. Besides, a passenger is exposed to passive smoking by inhaling the foul smell inside the vehicle and becoming vulnerable to lung disease for no fault of his.
This is in addition to the risk of meeting with an accident due to the reckless driving of the cabby. The drivers regularly justify their dangerous driving by saying that they’ve been driving this way for years.