Muscat – It’s been almost three years since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought life to a standstill for most. While things are slowly getting back on track in many sectors, Muscat’s taxi drivers are still struggling to make ends meet.
Long wait for passengers and constant bargaining for fare have left taxi drivers, who have been struggling since the last few years, at their wit’s end. The grim situation has compelled many taxi drivers to consider a change in profession. But the few who opted to try a different way to earn a living weren’t successful.
Before the pandemic, driving a taxi was a decent business with taxi drivers earning a good deal. But they’ve fallen on hard times. Many complain that besides the pandemic, the growing number of city buses, rising inflation and the introduction of VAT on certain items have added to their woes.
With fewer passengers in Ruwi, Rusayl and Al Khuwayr – once considered hubs for taxis – coupled with easy accessibility to city buses, taxi drivers are now considering an increase in fares.
“There used to be so many people – mostly expatriates – at any given time of the day travelling as far as Seeb and Mawaleh,” Abdullah Hamad Khamis, a taxi driver from Ruwi, reminisces. “Passengers went to every corner of the city. But now things are so challenging. There is hardly anyone at the taxi stand, so passengers have to wait long for the taxi to fill up.”
Khamis added that with city buses now plying on several routes, there is a competition for taxi drivers. “Passengers say the buses are spacious and cheaper, but we are faster. Also we can drop off passengers closer to their offices and homes, which can be reached via small lanes where buses don’t go.”
Taxi drivers with big families and less income in the current situation are forced to work extra hours. Khamis’ friend Salman, another taxi driver, claimed he used to ferry as many as 100 passengers a day from Ruwi to Seeb until two years back. Now he has half as many passengers.
“Mornings and evenings were good for business. But now there’s very little business. I have five children and my mother stays with me. My wife used to work but after delivery, she is at home. I am working in night shifts too. Sometimes I go back home around 1am. There are few taxis at night, so there’s less competition. But the money I am earning is still not enough.”
The city’s taxi drivers have been considering a hike in minimum fare to at least 200bz.
“It’s not possible to run a taxi on the same amount of money these days. Most of our passengers are blue-collar workers, so increasing the fare to 200bz will impact them, but at the same time it has become impossible for us to make a living by driving taxis with the number of passengers and business decreasing every day,” said Khalid Hilal, another taxi driver.