The Middle East @ Work

Cab Driver Econ

Meaw Mar 10, 2008

If you don’t have a car in Dubai, you can spend half your life in a cab. So I’ve gotten to know a few drivers since I arrived last week. Most come from India or Pakistan. One of them, John, is an electrician by training. He’s from Kerala, in southwestern India. When he arrived here 8 years ago, he says his rent was 70 dirhams a month. That’s about 19 US dollars. Sounds cheap, but consider he was sharing that one room apartment with three other people. Today? That same room costs him 650 dirhams ($177).

Everybody you talk to here complains about inflation. It’s gotten so bad, the Gulf States are holding a summit later this month. The UAE just announced price caps on staples like eggs, rice, and water.

At the same time, my taxi driver, John, says he’s making less money. As traffic gets worse, he has fewer fares. It now costs him about $25 to fill up with gas. Again, sounds cheap to Americans, but that’s more than twice what he was paying just a year ago. And John used to have his cab for 24 hours…so he could work as long as he wanted. Often 16 hours at a time. But a few months back regulators switched to a shift system. Now, he has to surrender his car to another driver after 12 hours. Better for his health, perhaps. But now he can’t work enough to offset the rise in costs.

So…when his contract expires in January, John plans to head back to his family in Kerala. He hopes to open his own electrical shop.

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