Liz O’Reilly looks at the pros and cons of hitching a ride in Bahrain
What is it with the cab drivers in Bahrain? You’d think something as simple as ferrying people from A to B would be a relatively uncontroversial calling but we certainly seem to be blessed, or should that be afflicted, with a fair smattering of the good, the bad and the ugly.
Not long ago a major cruise company’s visit to the island was marred by taxi drivers swarming on the disembarking guests, attempting to negotiate crazzy fares for the short journey from the port into Manama, and I’ve personally spoken to four visiting US servicemen who were charged $80 to ride from the naval base to JJ’s!
Just last night a friend, who’s staying with me at the moment, flagged a cab outside my door in Adliya to go to a restaurant just round the corner (walking distance if it weren’t for the broken leg courtesy of last week’s gate-climbing antics). The taxi she picked was one of those big London-cab jobs which I happen to know are equipped with Satnav, so why, two minutes later, was she calling to ask for directions? Surely the minimum requirement for a cabby should be to know where they’re going?
A variation on this theme is the company that takes your booking then leaves you standing for 20 minutes while the driver tries to find you – admonitions that ‘you’ve been here before’ and ‘why didn’t you just ask?’ fall on deaf ears. My particular fave is when they tell you he’s outside when you’re actually standing there and there’s no cab in sight.
And then there’s the small matter of the meter. Pals who have been on the island far longer than my newcomer three years tell me there was a time when none of the cabs had meters and inquiries as to the price were met with a smile and the suggestion to ‘give me what you think’ – usually eliciting a snarl if you handed over anything less than a couple of dinars above the odds.
Thankfully, these days all official taxis are equipped with meters and, if you’re using one that isn’t, it’s a good idea to negotiate the fare before you set off – my own regular guy charges BD2 to go just about anywhere and never seems to be more than 10 minutes away.
In fact, he’s among the many gems I’ve met behind the wheels of taxis here in Bahrain.
All the above moans aside, taxi drivers have taught me more Arabic than anyone else here. There’s one particular chap who turns every homeward journey from brunch into a mini lesson – sadly his pupil is particularly ungifted but he keeps on trying with a smile.
And the ones I’ve come across have been very honest, specially after I left my phone in the car only to have it delivered back 20 minutes later by a driver who refused to take any money for the extra journey from Seef to Adliya.
The same chap, on a journey to the airport, thought to check that I had remembered ticket and passport – of course I had left them in my other bag but with much squealing of tyres and U-turns galore, he still managed to get me to the gate on time.
So, all in all, on reflection I don’t think we have too much to complain about.