For many years, Qatar has been suffering from a shortage of taxi vehicles able to provide for its burgeoning population. Now the government is pushing initiatives to sort out the problem ahead of the FIFA World Cup, which it is due to host in 2022.
However, with an average population growth rate of 7 percent, the demand for taxis and other forms of public transportation has put immense pressure on the system, leading to the development of private taxis, which is essentially private Qatari residents putting their own cars up for hire.
“Demand is twice the number of the available taxis. People always complain about a lack of taxis. For example there is a call center number written on the taxi, but if I tried to call them to request a car most of the time no one would answer, and if they do answer they will be busy. I think demand is three times the supply,” said one frustrated man waiting for a taxi.
In 2004, in reaction to the taxi dilemma, the transportation company ‘Mowasalat’ was launched as an umbrella body to take all taxi services under one wing, aiming to create structure, uniformity and a more efficient level of service.
Its main task was to provide integrated transport services such as airport taxis, regular taxis, first-class limousines, public transport buses, school buses and private vehicles for hire.
Mowasalat owns the right to operate trucking services exclusively in the State of Qatar, and also to give licenses to other companies.
The well-known name also owns Karwa Cars, who provide all the official taxis in the state and say they are doing everything in their power to solve the crisis ahead of the games in 2022.
Mr. Nasser al-Khanji, who is the Mowasalat’s Business Development and Strategy Director said, “At Karwa, it is company policy to fill the gaps in Qatar as a priority. There are other players on the streets, but nothing for us to worry about. In terms of our taxi wing, when we first started up, taxis were owned by people, not organizations or companies. The level of service was bad, so we established the company Karwa and raised the level of service. Now we give back to the community by creating opportunities for the local market through the franchising and the introduction of other companies. This will introduce 1500 more vehicles by 2013 in addition to our Karwa cars.”
However Doha locals say they are yet to see any improvement. One man waiting for a taxi outside a major mall in the area said, “The problem is that Karwa taxis are only available in major areas such as the mall and parks, not in the public streets. If you make your way to the stand and see that a taxi is free, it is not normally vacant; the car has usually been booked in advance.”
Qatar Traffic Law strictly prohibits the use of private vehicles for public transport, with private car owners facing a fine ranging from 500-1500 Qatari Riyals and the risk of 5-10 days imprisonment. The car also goes into holding for 6 months.
However such stern punishments are yet to deter the plethora of private taxis available in the area, who claim they are providing a much needed service to its citizens who can sometimes be spotted waiting for hours, simply to make their way home.