Taxi operators find the going tough

19 June 2021

The past 15 months have been difficult for small-scale businesses in the country, especially for the taxi operators, not just here but worldwide.

There have been series of full and partial lockdowns over this period, which restricted the movement of vehicles and people during night peak hours.

“We generally do our business during evenings, weekends, Eid and National Day holidays. But all these occasions have been a major washout and we have little hope for the upcoming Eid al Adha holidays as the Covid-19 cases continue to rise in the country,” said Mohammed, a taxi operator at one of the leading hypermarkets in the city.

On Saturday, the Supreme Committee reimposed the night lockdown between 8 pm and 4 am, which will continue until further notice.

Harith al Maqbali, the CEO of the on-demand app-based Otaxi, said, “It has been difficult for the taxi operators, who tried to survive these months by focusing on cutting costs wherever possible.”

He said that vaccines have been given to taxi drivers on a priority basis.

With the vaccination drive gaining steam, Otaxi said it is trying to take advantage of this lean period to prepare for the future.

The company that had a humble start now has 1,500 taxis in its fleet and hopes to equip all vehicles with facilities such as Wi-Fi and premium or VIP services.

Speaking to the Observer, Sulaiman, a retired government employee and a taxi driver said, “The past year has been difficult, and we have to still spend on maintenance and insurance business or no business. Apart from lockdowns, there are other factors hurting us. People now avoid public transport to avoid sharing commute with others. Also, many expatriates, especially those who avail of taxis, have left the country due to job losses. The tourist inflow has been also zero due to the travel ban, which also affected our lucrative airport trips.”

Several taxi operators echoed the hope that things to get better before the winter, which will not only bring tourists but offer unrestricted movement for domestic travellers.

“We struggle to make even RO5 to R10 a day despite waiting in the sun for customers for a long period. It has been really bad and there is no point in repeating about our problems,” said Salem, whose private-sector job has been facing uncertainties too.


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