Some pilgrims that actually go to perform Umrah or Hajj usually complain about Saudi private taxis. While we provide the transfers from city to city and from the airport to the city hotel, the company does not offer services that move the pilgrims within the city for private reasons. This is where most of our customers come in contact with Saudi taxis that sometimes, but all the time, cause problems.
English, No English
The first and foremost issue with taxi drivers is that most do not know English, and those that do know, know only a few words of English. Conveying them where to go might be a little easy, all you have to say is the name of the place and they will take you there. But God forbid, if there is an issue and you’d like them to give you their input since they know their country better, then that is not going to be a very tiring or fruitless discussion. Sharpen your Arabic if you have some proficiency in it already, but if you do not, perhaps it’s best to engage the taxi drivers in discussions restricted to the location of your destination and how much would they charge for it.
We have also received a few complaints regarding dishonest taxi drivers or fraudsters. Some pilgrims hire private taxis to go to Zayarats or other places of religious significance and tend to stop at many holy sites in the same trip. They ask how much their trip would cost from the driver and give the money in advance. Some (not all) taxi drivers are in a habit of leaving the pilgrims at the sites with the money for the whole trip, while they are asked to wait outside. Lesson to be learned: Never give the entire money for the journey in advance.
I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff and Zoom you away
With the Hajj or Umrah season at its peak, some drivers come under the added stress of trying to make more money from the religious tourism season. Some (again not all) taxi drivers tend to drive the cars extremely rashly in order to make more rides and are not considerate of speed limits or traffic rules. The Shurtas (Police) though are present to check them and penalize such behaviour but when the coast is clear; the driver tends to put the pedal to the metal. Pilgrims complain that they had bad experiences, as they saw the car barely escaping an accident, and their entire trip was spent holding their breaths, clutching passenger handles and curling their toes anticipating an accident.
Smoke and Taximeter
Furthermore, the taxi drivers sometimes are smoking cigarettes or our chewing tobacco which is, to some of our clients, an irritation. Sometimes, the taximeter is not used, though it is fitted in the car. The driver just simply says that the meter is broken and charges you the money based on his ‘judgment’. Due to security concerns, do not take any private cars for taxis. Some people stop near the pilgrims by the road and ask them where they are headed. If the destinations coincide with theirs, they transport the pilgrims, making them pay for the ride, which is normal and somewhat fair, but best to stick with the registered taxis.
Uber and Careem
If everything fails, use Uber or Careem. Use these applications for transport around the city. Uber has a brand name and the pricing is done by a centralized system. They would also be responsible for your security and penalize the driver if he does not keep to the traffic rules. This way even if you have to use the regular taxis you would know how much a trip should cost.
Going Once, Going Twice, Sold
Always bargain the price. After telling the driver about your intended destination from the window, say “Kaam” which means “how much?” Regular taxi drivers ask for almost double the normal charge at first, so offer 50% of that price or begin to walk away. Just consider the Uber prices to be the benchmark. Check if the car is clean, and does not carry any unpleasant smells. Saudi society dictates that the males are to sit in the front and the accompanying women to sit in the back.
As in all cases, knowing about the issue before hand, and knowing what to expect and anticipate alerts the pilgrims and makes them ready how to handle themselves in a situation. We are sure that using the information provided above, the pilgrim would not face many issues or would be able to handle themselves in case there is one.