It’s not far from being the standard, but a lot of London-style taxi cabs have been seen around the city lately. I first got to spin around with these cars when The Kingdom Mall started offering them to their customers a little over a year ago. In the beginning, they had them in several dark colors, but recently, we started to see that they have painted over them to look like the regular taxi that we see on the street. But obviously, nothing is too ordinary about these little cute cabs. Take a look:
These are managed by the Kingdom Centre and it welcomes members to what they dub as the “London Cab Club“. I happen to have a “Classic” level membership and you can accumulate points in order to upgrade your membership status (you do that by riding them as often as you wish). The models of these cars are of the London Taxi International TX4 series and can seat around five people in the back. All of the cars are brand new and boasts of state-of-the-art technology ranging from ergonomic driver seats to bluetooth connections inside the cab. I remember trying to act cool when I first rode in it, fighting the urge to tinkle with all the buttons and gears found in the passengers’ area. The rates are fixed and you pay the “conductor” before leaving for your destination and they give you a receipt for reference. So far, this service is only available in The Kingdom Centre and Ghernata (Granada) Mall.
Just a bit of trivia, back in the day, we used to refer to taxis here as “limousines” and it is customary, up to this very day, that the customer (for most Filipinos that is) dictates the price of the trip and we rarely follow what the meter says. Quite the opposite from the practice in the Philippines. And if the driver doesn’t like the price you offer them, usually, kami pa ang nagagalit — so they eventually give in to the price we want. Well, this practice is for the ordinary taxis that we wait for in the streets. There are other taxi companies apart from the London Cab Club that service compounds and hospitals, like Hala.
The Pink Tarha Ladies are regular cab passengers especially during times when our fathers (aka drivers) are not available. Contrary to popular belief, riding the taxi on your own in Saudi Arabia is quite safe. In my experience, you just got to be street smart and pick your taxi carefully. Here are my own tips for the uninitiated:
1. I usually pick a Bangladesh/Indian/Afghan/Pakistani driver. Saudi drivers don’t exactly have the trust of the public when it comes to driving. So learn how to spot the “good” ones.
2. Knowing a little Arabic is a big help. If you wish to travel about on your own, make sure you are armed with terms that can bring you to your destination. Otherwise, you’d be a sitting duck.
3. Once you get in the car, immediately text a friend/relative the Taxi Registration number of the cab that you are riding. These are like plate numbers inside the taxi, and they are usually in Arabic, so again, you must know how to read Arabic numbers.
4. Don’t ride a taxi if you yourself are not familiar with the route of your destination. I can only recommend using the cab on your own if you know the way to where you are going. If you are not sure, better travel with someone who does, because you never know where the cab is going to take you. So again, you got to be street smart! Frantic travelers have no place in the Saudi roads.
5. It’s best to have a regular taxi cab on your beck and call. Over the years that I’ve been running around the streets of Riyadh, I have a handful of trusted contacts on my mobile phone in case I need a taxi. Some of them are ordinary cabs, while others are from the taxi service companies like Hala or The London Club. The important thing is that you know the drivers already and they can easily pick you up. Just make sure to call ahead of time if you are going to use their services because they have other regular customers too. This for me is the safest and best way to get around in Riyadh on your own.
Women aren’t allowed to drive in the Kingdom, so riding the taxi is the next best thing (for now). I know that there are a lot of apprehensions about men letting their wives/sisters/daughters go about the city or the malls on their own, without their supervision, but hey, if you guys can handle the loooooong hours of lady shopping and the traffic that goes with it, by all means, drive your women! 🙂 But try getting a reliable taxi driver, it may save you from boring sitting benches at the mall or from shouting swear words in the car.