Driving us mad

Discussing traffic is a second nature to us Dubai folk. We find out how long it really takes to get across the city and ask the RTA for the latest updates

Area Guides

With continued conflict between the public and the Road and Transport Authority’s taxi service, Anna Whitehouse went undercover to see how long it takes to get from A to B.

Anna Whitehouse, posing as a pregnant mother of two, heading to Dubai International Airport



One hour 52 minutes Stress factor: ‘I rang at 7.45am, hoping to be out of my flat by 8.45am at the latest. I warned the call centre that I had two children, was pregnant, could not go on to the street to hail a cab and needed to get to the airport. Hearing nothing by 8.45am, I called back, but was told my cab had been taken by someone else. When I explained my situation again the call operator – who was really helpful – said she’d ensure I got a cab in the next 20 minutes. This didn’t happen so I called back every five minutes, pleading for a cab. Eventually one turned up at 9.37am and he apologised, saying ‘this is a bad area for taxi’.

RTA response
‘We’re facing a lot of problems at the moment with taxi drivers being forced by clients to pick them up off the street when they already have a scheduled job. In this scenario – if you’ve made a booking – check up after 20 minutes to ensure it’s still in the system. Stress that you’re going to the airport and I’d book the night before, confirming that you need a people carrier. We’re currently working on a system to improve this issue.’

Janice Ahmalia, Filipino sales assistant, heading to Karama



55 minutes

Stress factor
‘I have been waiting here [Satwa Street] for 40 minutes already and many empty taxis have passed me by. I always find it this hard to get a cab in Dubai and often get overlooked by drivers because they think I’m going to a congested area like Karama. It’s quite a big statement to say it’s a racism issue, but I know a Western customer standing on the same street as me would be able to get a taxi in five minutes. I just don’t know what to do anymore. I have no money for a car and there’s no other reliable public transport system here.’

RTA response
‘We’ve heard of Indian drivers who won’t pick up British customers, Sudanese drivers who haven’t picked up Filipinos and Pakistani drivers who haven’t picked up Indian customers. It’s not a racial issue. Dubai is a melting pot of different nationalities and the reason someone doesn’t get picked up is because the driver is either assigned to a job, on a break, off duty or needs the toilet – do you really think a driver who works on commission would refuse a fare because of nationality? We are, however, going to put an end to drivers refusing to take passengers to their destination on the pretext of traffic congestion.’

Anna Whitehouse, posing as a shopper at Mall of the Emirates, heading to Mankhool

Mall of the Emirates


35 seconds

Stress factor
‘It was literally a case of walking out of the door – at the top end of Mall of the Emirates, next to the Kempinski hotel – and opening the door, sitting down in an AC-fuelled vehicle and directing the driver to Mankhool. There were no queues, an abundance of taxis and everyone seemed positively chipper.’

RTA response
‘Yes, there are some areas in Dubai that are more congested than others. The worst areas are Bur Dubai, Karama and Deira, while the best are Mall of the Emirates and Jumeirah. But we are working towards improving this imbalance. The problem we are facing is not a lack of taxis, but reluctance from drivers to go to those places. Remember, it’s not like London where cabbies charge for time – even if you’re stuck in a traffic jam. Over here, if a driver is in traffic for an hour and moves two kilometres, he’ll only get Dhs5. But we are working on a system that’ll solve this issue.’

In the meantime…

While the RTA widens roads, builds bridges and generally tackles the ‘traffic issue’, here’s a few things you can do to speed up the hailing process:

1. If you need a cab in rush hour (8am-10am or 5pm-7pm) book an hour in advance. Taxis won’t come immediately at these times.

2. If it’s an urgent journey to the airport or a business meeting, book the night before.

3. If you’ve booked a cab and then pick one off the street, cancel the booking so that someone else can have your cab directed to them. If everyone does this, the whole system will speed up.

4. Make sure you’re registered with the RTA so they know exactly who you are and where you’re based. Confusing directions add to the time lag.

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