(MENAFN - Arab News) Licensed taxi drivers and passengers at King Abdulaziz International Airport are calling on airport police to put a stop to unlicensed drivers using their private cars as taxis to pick up passengers illegally.
As passengers exit the baggage claim and customs area, individuals sometimes as young as 16 and as old as 70 years of age offer them rides at half the prices the licensed airport taxis charge.
Roshdan Murshid Al-Jihani, 50, a Saudi national and licensed airport taxi driver said that unlicensed drivers are taking the food out of his children's mouths and are forcing him to work longer hours, time he spends away from his family.
"I arrived this morning at 8:30 a.m. to queue at the taxi stand," Al-Jihani said. "It's now 3 p.m. and I have just barely reached the front of the line. If I'm lucky I will get three long distance trips to South Jeddah or somewhere far away by 8:30 a.m. tomorrow.
"These illegal drivers simply come to the airport, wait for the next flight to arrive and ask passengers if they need a taxi. Within a few minutes they are on their way somewhere, charging whatever they want. That money is being taken out of my family's pocket."
Al-Jihani said the licensed taxi drivers couldn't begin to compete with the unlicensed ones as these had little overhead. Licensed taxi drivers must meet stringent safety and insurance standards.
"To be a licensed airport taxi, your car cannot be older than five years," he said. "So every five years I have to spend over SR 100,000 to buy a new car. Then there is the upkeep, the insurance and the airport fees.
It's no wonder they charge half what we do. But they can be dangerous. What if one of them pulls over on a dark street and robs you? No one will ever find him. People who take those taxis are playing with their safety."
Hoshan Saleh Al-Hoshan, 31, an ARAMCO engineer who had just arrived at KAIA stood at the taxi line and was outraged at the prices the licensed drivers were quoting him.
"We need taxi prices listed somewhere like they have in Bangladesh," Al-Hoshan said. "Bangladesh's taxis are better organized than the ones we have here. These airport taxis charge SR 80 to go to Hamra. Why should I pay that when I can rent a car for SR 90 a day."
Al-Jihani says that all airport taxi prices are set at a tariff and that passengers are given a receipt at the end of their journey.
"Any trip within Jeddah is set at a minimum of SR 60," he said. "Trips to south Jeddah or the furthest parts of Jeddah to the airport are charged at a maximum of SR 100. Trips to Makkah are about SR 200 to SR 250, depending on the distance."
For 23-year-old Majid, an unemployed Saudi national, a quick trip to the airport to pick up passengers illegally allows him to have spending money for the day.
"I don't do this very often," he said, refusing to give his last name. "Whenever I have expenses above and beyond what I get from Hafiz (SR 2,000 per month allowance for unemployed Saudis), I just come to the airport and pick someone up. I charge anything from SR 50 for trips inside Jeddah to SR 250 for a trip to Makkah."
Although he is concerned that the police may catch him, Majid said that he had never heard of anyone being fined or jailed for poaching passengers.
A traffic police corporal at KAIA said officers are powerless to stop the illegal drivers.
"We tried to put a stop to it," said the police corporal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "But when we approach the illegal drivers, their passengers complain that the licensed ones are too expensive.
"We've been told many times that it's none of our business, both by the illegal drivers and their passengers.
Our job here is to control the flow of traffic in front of the terminal and to make sure no one parks there. I gave up chasing down the unlicensed drivers a long time ago. Allah is the one who decides who earns what in this life."
The police corporal however did advise passengers arriving at any of the Kingdom's airports to use only licensed airport taxis that are clearly marked with a set tariff.
"If you forget your wallet or phone in one of those private cars, who are you going to complain to, to get your things back," the corporal said. "We don't know who these individuals are, where they are from, or where they go after they pick you up. If you lose something in a taxi, or something happens to you, how are we going to find the driver?
"I've told people who lost things in illegal taxis, that they shouldn't have done that and advised them to hang around the terminal in the hope of seeing the driver again."