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Driving our taxis into 21st century

By Captain Mahmood Al Mahmood

The world of tourism is changing rapidly. What was once seen as a straightforward way to attract investment, generate employment and boost the economy is being examined today for hidden catches.

Recently, in Mallorca, a scenic Mediterranean island which is part of Spain, residents protested that their island had been taken over by Instagram-happy tourists who came with changes of clothes to pose and take multiple shots for their social media, leading to long queues which made the beach inaccessible to the islanders.

The result was that the local way of life had been turned topsy turvy. In France, hotel owners are gearing up for the Paris Olympics next month and have sued Air BnB, the network of private holiday residences, that are much cheaper than hotels, saying the arrangement is destroying the hotel business.

This got me thinking – in Bahrain, we have not yet gotten on the grid for Air BnB but there are taxi services which are the equivalent of Uber, which are certainly cutting into the incomes of regular licensed taxi operators.

Time and again, Bahraini taxi drivers have been protesting about these services which use expat drivers and all the modern conveniences to woo passengers: a full-fledged app that is accessible on mobile phones and a 24-hour hotline to call a cab.

In addition, they are also undercut by ‘freelance drivers’: expat drivers who offer their services at much lesser cost to anybody who needs to go from point to point and who does not have a taxi rank in their vicinity. These people just dial these freelance drivers and get a ride at their doorstep.

Now we have often heard our MPs raise questions about Bahrainisation in Parliament. Often, when it comes to taxi drivers, the argument targets the expat drivers without looking at the whole picture.

What if we were to equip Bahraini taxi drivers with the mod-cons which the dial-a-taxi companies use?

Our taxis are already very well supervised by the traffic authorities for safety, cleanliness and fare control.

We should empower our taxi drivers by making them the face of Bahrain’s tourism – just like the famed London cabbie – and also create a government-approved public service app with which passengers can dail up a taxi whenever they want.

This will go a long way towards making our Bahraini taxi drivers more productive and able to meet the challenges of their trade as it has evolved today.

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Captain Mahmood Al Mahmood is the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Tribune and the President of the Arab-African Unity Organisation for Relief, Human Rights and Counterterrorism