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Taxi drivers in a fix even though buses go off roads

22 Mar 2020

Orange taxi operators are not seeing a rise in business even after public buses operating on intra-city routes went off roads last week.

The Ministry of Transport had ordered suspension of operations of public buses, ferries and taxis (vans) from March 19 as part of wide-ranging measures to control the spread of Novel Coronavirus. Orange taxis were exempted from the decision.

On Saturday morning, the Ruwi taxi stand looked deserted with no travellers around.
Speaking to Muscat Daily , a taxi owner said, “I operate taxi on the Muttrah route. Even till last week, the business was okay with some passengers always still around in spite of bus service being operational. But after the closure of Muttrah Souq which people visit in large numbers for shopping, there is hardly any traveller. Because of the coronavirus, people are even scared to travel in taxis, is what I feel. We are keeping the windows open too while driving so that if someone coughs or sneezes, the virus does not stay inside the car.”

Another taxi operator on the Seeb route said, “This route has malls in Qurm, Al Khuwayr, Azaiba and Seeb but all are closed as per the government decision. This morning [Saturday], I struggled to get even three customers from the starting point in Ruwi.”

As per the ministry’s guidelines, the maximum number of persons in a taxi must not exceed four including the driver. ‘There must be a vacant seat between two passengers. Disinfect and clean seats at the start and end of every trip especially the inner and external handles,’ the ministry stated.
As part of safety measures, many taxi drivers are wearing masks and gloves. “These are tough times. We are trying to follow ministry guidelines as much as possible,” another taxi driver said.

On Saturday, Muscat Daily spoke to a passenger in Ruwi. “I had stopped travelling in taxis for the last couples of years since the introduction of Mwasalat buses in the city. I live in Seeb and have to visit Ruwi for some work or the other. Bus journeys are more comfortable with wide seats and more leg space. But now there is no option but to travel on orange taxis for the time being. I hope the buses are back on the roads soon,” John Matthew, a commuter, said.

A prominent business area in the city, Muttrah has registered decline in footfall after the closure of the souq. With ban on the entry of cruise liners at Port Sultan Qaboos, taxi owners have been hit hard by loss of business. “Earlier, I used to pick cruise passengers for city tours but even that is gone for the time being,” a taxi driver said.

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