Maldivian Red Crescent provides first aid training for taxi drivers

The Transport Authority of Maldives (TAM) and Maldivian Red Crescent (MRC) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding committing to provide first aid training to local taxi drivers.

The agreement was signed by the Minister of Transport and Communication Ameen Ibrahim and Secretary General of Maldivian Red Crescent Abdul Razzaq Ibrahim today (May 27).

Speaking at the event, Transport Minister Ameen highlighted the importance of such a programme and said that drivers serving the public must be equipped with the necessary skills to face an emergency, reported local media Sun Online.

Ameen noted the recent difficulties faced by taxi drivers due to the newly enacted taxi regulation and thanked the drivers for their support in its implementation, Sun Online reported.

According to Razzaq, drivers will often be the first to arrive at an accident site and that the first aid programme is an important step towards public safety.

The MRC also stated that they aim to train more than 800 taxi drivers before October 2014.

Last month, taxi drivers in Malé staged a protest against what they regard as “strict” and unfair new regulations which were to be implemented.

Key concerns raised by participants included the issue of ‘taxi-top’ vacancy signs, and not having similar legislation for all land transport, including lorries and pickups.


Police conclude special operation regarding Taxi regulations

Police have revealed on 21 unlicensed drivers have been fined in a month-long operation to see if taxi drivers are observing the Taxi Driving Regulations.

During the operation – between April 16 and May 18 – police also fined 13 taxis who had tinted glass on their windows.

Additionally, 49 drivers have been fined for not displaying their licenses in a manner that can be easily seen by passengers while another 29 were fined for not correctly displaying the taxi number and name of its service station on the cab itself.

One person has been fined for not having fixed the vacancy indication board on his cab.

A total of 156 persons have been fined for various offences since the regulations – unpopular with many drivers – came into effect, revealed police.


Taxi drivers brand calls to introduce Dhivehi taxi boards “ridiculous”

The Dhivehi Language Academy has called on taxis to change their boards to read ‘Taxi’ in the Dhivehi Thaana script instead of English – a move branded “ridiculous” by drivers.

“The problem is not that ‘taxi’ is an English word,” President of the Dhivehi Language Academy Ashraf Ali explained.

“It can be a word of any language, but the law says if a word does not have a Dhivehi equivalent it should simply be written in the Thaana script. The lettering, at least, should be in Dhivehi even if the word is not,” he said.

Taxi drivers have responded with exasperation to the academy’s suggestion.

“It is a waste of money,” said Malé taxi driver Ahmed Afra. “And in any case, what difference does it make? Should we also have someone sit atop the cabs to say whether we are vacant or occupied in sign language for those who can’t read?”

“All this is reaching the ridiculous now. Like the Transport Authority says, the board suffices as a symbol of occupancy and is an added convenience to the passenger. I don’t see why the academy feels the need to complicate things further,” continued Afra.

The new signs became mandatory from May 15, after repeated delays following resistance from drivers who claimed the new regulations – which included mandatory insurance, medical checks, and regulated fares – were too strict.

The Dhivehi Academy was created under the 2011 National Language (Priority) Act and is charged with continuing the preservation and development of the language.

Ashraf has said that precedence must be given to the local language according to the law, and that therefore any English words must be printed in smaller print beneath a larger Dhivehi word.

However, Transport Minister Ameen Ibrahim has told local media that the word ‘Taxi’ written on boards placed atop vehicles should not be seen as a phrase, but rather as a symbol identifying whether vehicle is vacant.

“We can use ‘Taxi’ in either manner. But in this case, we are not using ‘Taxi’ as a phrase, but rather as sign language – as a symbol. Technical persons say that it is a symbol. It is the same in almost all other countries of the world,” he is quoted as saying to local media.

Taxi drivers have said the discussion between the Transport Ministry and the Dhivehi Academy shows the state had implemented the new regulations before it was properly reviewed.

Hassan Shameel argued that the government should have to bear the cost of further changes to the signs, arguing that the transport authority should have resolved such issues before implementing the new regulations.

“Where has the Dhivehi Language Academy been all this time? It’s been an year since this was gazetted, and they snap awake after it was implemented on the 15th of this month and suddenly are concerned about the language. Why didn’t they act before?”

“In any case, if they love the language so much, why do they not notice that the schools, streets, hospitals have their names in English? Why be concerned about taxis alone?” he continued.

Academy president Ashraf stated that the intention was not to increase costs for the drivers, but to come to a reasonable solution through discussions with the Transport Authority.

“There can’t be an immediate solution, and we are aware of that. We are trying to do a sincere task here. All we want is for everyone to embrace and take pride in our individuality and national identity,” he said.


Taxis notified to fit vacancy signs by April 15

The Transport Authority of Maldives has notified taxis to place a sign on top of the car to indicate vacancy to passengers before April 15 2014, reported local media Sun Online.

“The light-up taxi boards have to fit the authority’s standards. Places producing or selling these taxi boards will have a special permit issued by this authority,” Sun Online reported the authority as saying.

Taxi regulations, published on 16 December 2013, imposed fixed taxi fees of MVR25 per trip between 6:00 a.m. and 12:00 a.m. and MVR30 per trip between 12:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.

In addition to these regulations, taxi drivers are obligated to have on display their name and the contact details of their taxi centres.


Transport Authority to revoke licences of taxis refusing to serve police officers

The Transport Authority of the Maldives (TAM) has said it has received complaints from police officers who have been refused service from some taxis following the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012.

Transport Authority Registrar Ibrahim Nazim told local media that the authority had even recently received a complaint from an officer who had been refused service from a taxi “because he was in uniform.”

TAM confirmed to local media that it was currently working with the police to find the offending vehicle and its driver. Nazim further said the authority had  received complaints about incidents where political ideologies had contributed to creating problems in service provision. He said taxi drivers cannot refuse to serve police or MNDF officers, regardless of their personal sentiments.

“Some taxi drivers have demanded police officers get out of their taxis. They say the car belongs to them. Although the taxi car might be their property, the licence to work as a taxi is granted by the state after all. We will revoke the licence of the taxi we are currently looking for, and we will take against him the strictest measures possible under the law,” Nazim said.

Drivers divided

The issue has divided opinion among taxi centres and drivers. While some said it was the right of the state to revoke licences based on incidents of discrimination, others held it was the drivers’ right to serve whom they will.

“It’s not just police officers who we may at times refuse to be hired by. Sometimes we say no to passengers depending on the destination they might want to go to. We even refuse passengers who are carrying too many food items, as we’d be the ones left to clean out the smell when they leave and it’s just not worth the trouble for MVR 20 a trip,” said Ali Naseer, who has been in the profession for over 12 years.

“I think it’s unreasonable for our licences to be revoked just based on an incidence where one of these passengers we refused turns out to be a policeman. The police and government are just being paranoid because of the little support they enjoy lately.”

Another taxi driver, on condition of anonymity, said: “If we are not comfortable to be closed in a car with a certain person, we won’t let them into our cabs. We see what police are doing to citizens on the streets. Why would we want to be in a closed space with them? Would you feel safe locked up with one of those officers? It is very unfair for the government to cancel our licences just because some of us don’t want to serve officers.”

Meanwhile, others say that as taxiing is a service, they will serve any customer regardless of party affiliation or personality.

“I personally will serve anyone who requests for service, as long as they pay me as is due. This is how we make a living, it’s wrong for the state to even consider cancelling licences just like this,” said Ibrahim Rasheed, a taxi driver who has been in the field for three years.

Another driver said: “Who knows how evil or corrupt some of my customers may be. But that is not my problem. I will just serve all alike, as this is the work I do to earn enough to take care of my family.”

Some drivers feel that the authority is justified to revoke licenses based on incidences where taxis refuse service to certain customers.

“I have seen some of my fellow drivers sometimes refusing to allow even foreigners into their taxis. That is nothing but discrimination. The same can be said when drivers refuse to carry passengers who work for MNDF or police. It is our obligation to serve all people, foreign or local, who live on our soil. I believe the Transport Authority is taking necessary action by cancelling licences of drivers who behave in such unprofessional manner,” said a driver in his 30s, who works for one of the longest-serving taxi centres in the capital.

Many taxi centres confirmed they had so far not received any official communication regarding the matter from a relevant authority.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned on February 7 following a police mutiny, in an alleged coup d’etat. Although a Commonwealth-backed commission of inquiry established under presidential decree by current President Mohamed Waheed declared the transfer of power ‘constitutional’, the Maldives has since been in political turmoil, with the population divided by dissenting political views and ensuing political demonstrations.

Many of the demonstrations have been against police brutality, following a police crackdown on February 8, 2012. Police and army officials are often targeted in these protests as orchestrators of the coup d’etat and are referred to as “baaghee” [traitor] by demonstrators.

Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim, who is also overseeing the Ministry of Transport and Communications currently, was unable to speak to Minivan News at the time of press.

Police Media Official Sub Inspector Hassan Haneef was also not responding to calls.


Bus service won’t affect taxis, says Mayor

Male City Mayor Adam Manik has reassured taxi drivers that they need not be concerned about trials of a bus service, reports Haveeru.

“Everyone’s not a millionaire. An affordable mode of transport should be available for the some 150,000 people living in Male’,” Haveeru reported Manik as saying.

“On the other hand, people who use cars are those who want to go directly to their homes. So taxi drivers shouldn’t be worried about that,” he said.

Manik said environmentally friendly buses would be introduced pending a six month trial of a bus service in the capital.

“In our efforts to become carbon neutral we need to reduce the number of fuel-powered vehicles,” Manik said.


Government moves to outlaw tinted windows in commercial vehicles

The government has reportedly moved to ban the use of materials such as Sun-X and other solar window film products that obscure viewing the inside of taxis and other commercial vessels and vehicles in the Maldives.

Haveeru has reported that the national transport authority has acted under article 45 of the constitution and now expects all vehicles that are being used for commercial reasons to be in compliance with the new regulation by April 1 2011.

Although not directly connected to any specific case, news of the announcement follows an alleged attempt by a taxi driver in Male’ this month to sexually assault a 20-year old woman in a vehicle with darkly tinted windows.


Hulhumale taxi drivers protest introduction of MTCC ‘express’ taxis

Taxi drivers and those have applied for taxi licenses demonstrated in front of the Hulhumale Development Corporation (HDC) today.

The crowd of 25 held placards condemning the decision by HDC to allow the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company taxi’s to offer transfers from Hulhumale to the Hulhule Airport island.

The demonstration lasted for an hour and a half, before the drivers were called into a meeting with the management of HDC.

The Issue

Ahmed Riza, who has been driving a taxi in Hulhumale for the last four years, asks “Why should a company be allowed to provide transport to Hulhule, while the taxi drivers who are working here is not allowed to provide that service?”

The demonstraters main point of contention was as of last week, the MTCC has been operating vehicles from Hulhumale to the Hulhule airport, while local taxi drivers are not permitted to do so. They say this will result in a loss of income for them.

“Before they were just operating the cars with just the company name, but now they have taxi boards, and it says ‘express service’.”

Riza reasons that since Hulhumale and the Hulhule airport is connected by a causeway, taxi drivers like him should be allowed to transfer people to the airport.

“There are people here who have applied for licenses for driving taxis, but instead HDC has gone ahead and given taxi boards to a company.”

Riza says the cars, which are used for the transfers, are even providing trips internally in Hulhumale and depriving the taxi drivers of business.

“The other day I caught a car taking a sack of coconuts, and the driver said it was his personal trip.”

The fact that MTCC is using cars is another factor that Riza and his co-workers are not happy about.

A previous service provided Maldives Airport Company Limited (MACL) used buses.

Providing a service

“MTCC only provides transfers for passengers and their luggage from Hulhumale to the terminal of choice at the airport,” says Hawwa Huzeyma, Head of the Transport Department of MTCC.

She says the company does not provide taxi services internally in Hulhumale. MTCC is the company that provides transfers to the airport for Male residents, and she says they are providing that service to Hulhumale residents now.

“We were asked by Maldives Airport Company limited (MACL) to provide that service, which they had been providing before.”

The company uses both buses and cars for their express service.

Deputy Managing Director of HDC Suhail Ahmed says some concerned taxi drivers met with him a week ago.

“They were asking to be given permission to provide transfers to the airport, I told them that I will discuss it with MACL and give them an answer today.”

MACL does not provide free access to Hulhule Airport and only authorised vehicles are allowed in.

“For security reasons and because there is such high traffic at the airport MACL has restricted access to the airport and I conveyed this to the demonstrators,” he said.

At the moment 14 taxis are licensed to operate in Hulhumale, and the demonstrators have asked for an increase.

“After discussing it with them, we have agreed to that and next week we will be announcing it,” Suhail said.

The number of the increase has not been decided yet, as the taxi drivers themselves can’t decide on a number, he added.

Suhail says the HDC had to give taxi boards to MTCC vehicles, as “problems arise” if they provide transfers without the board.

“MACL has given permission for the MTCC to do the transfers as that would be easier, but we will be discussing the issue raised by the taxi drivers when the head of MACL returns to Male’ next week.”