Grey economy on wheels
Inside the life of an illegal taxi driver
July 14, 2014 1:14 by kippreport
By Nadine Sayegh
The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) is cracking down on illegal transport services in Dubai, as part of its campaign launched last month.
So, last week, we set forth on our (not-so-legal) journey to find out what all of the fuss was about.
While there have been reports of unregistered vehicles stopping on Dubai roads to pick up passengers, Kippreport doubted that it would find someone willing to talk.
While waiting for a taxi one day, we met an Asian man, named Bob (name changed), who is an illegal taxi driver. We asked him to drop us off at Downtown Dubai and he kindly obliged. Looking suspiciously at a small red car with a license plate from another emirate, we entered the vehicle.
Bob seemed like a nice man who spoke broken English and was happy to answer our questions, nonetheless. He told us he’s been living in Dubai for the past ten years, while his family continues to live in his hometown. Like many others in the city, he is here because he does not believe there is any opportunity to provide for his loved ones back home. He says, if he had a chance to live in his country, he wouldn’t hesitate.
When he first came to Dubai, he was working as a driver for a well-known motor company, but left his job, because he did not believe he was making enough. Hence, he began his crossing into the, relatively harmless, but illegal transportation business.
He tells us that he rents cars out on a monthly basis to keep the authorities off his tail and pays for it from his earnings, which amount to approximately AED4,000 per month. From this sum, he rents a shared apartment on the outskirts of Dubai, where he lives with one of his brothers. According to Bob, he makes roughly the same amount of money as a legal taxi driver would, but has the benefit of choosing his own working hours and is not obliged to report to anyone.
We wondered why Bob did not obtain any permit from the RTA and so we contacted the source to learn more. Upon speaking to an informed RTA call centre representative, we learnt that obtaining a transport license is no simple feat, not to mention the only way a situation like this would be legally accepted is through a service call ‘Sharekni’, which essentially allows you to carpool with colleagues.
Sadly, for Bob, there is no choice, but to have his livelihood shrouded in illegality.
After we established that his job is independent of a manager, it begs the question, how is he living in Dubai without a sponsor? Bob opened a Pandora’s box for us, by saying that he pays AED500 per month to get a residence visa, illegally, so that he can remain in the country. However, he would not elaborate any further.
According to Bob, if he is caught, he will be forced to pay a fine of AED500, which is, ironically, the same amount he pays to live in the city.
Through the investigation, Kippreport discovered an underlying grey economy and a way to better understand the drive behind the business.