BEIRUT: A new safety rule for the airport – adopted earlier this month – blocking all non-airport-run taxis from the arrivals terminal has been met with anger from drivers and passengers and glee from the Airport-run syndicate. Supporters claim it has increased safety and eased congestion at Beirut-Rafik Hariri International Airport. However, the move will likely see airport taxi fares increase as passengers take the often more expensive official cabs or pay the additional $4 car-park charge for private taxis.
Part of new safety measures being implemented by the Public Works and Transportation Ministry, along with the civil aviation authorities, the airport recently put into effect new rules and regulations dealing with taxis.
The measures only allow taxis owned and run by the airport to enter the arrivals level of the terminal. Private taxis transporting departing passengers are allowed to enter the departures level, but cannot enter the arrivals level and park, as had been the case over the last three decades. They will now have to wait in the nearby parking area if they wish to pick up passengers, increasing the price of a journey from the airport by $4.
Fadi El-Hassan, the manager of the airport, explained the new procedures in a statement early this month. “Public cars will be prohibited from entering and creating traffic in the airport,” he explained. Hassan added that the ministerial rule, related to Article 1/576 passed on June 15, is for the public’s safety.
“Any car that does not have a permit from the general directorate of the airport will be prohibited from entering,” he added.
The move has proved contentious with both drivers and passengers, but has been welcomed by accredited Airport Taxi drivers who are still allowed to pull up to the airport arrivals hall.
In the Airport Taxi stop, just outside the exit, around 15 drivers sat in the shade of a tree enjoying the cool breeze. “This is the most organized the airport has been since before the Civil War,” one Airport Taxi driver said.
Another Airport Taxi chauffeur chimed in. “We are thankful to those who are in charge of the security at the airport for giving us set standards to work by.” When asked what they thought about the new rule being implemented, almost every driver expressed excitement and enthusiasm. “For the first time ever, this airport has an organized and safe method of transporting departing and arriving passengers,” one driver claimed.
On the other hand, individual private taxi drivers say they have been disproportionately affected by the move. “Now, we can [only] drop passengers off,” Ahmad, who has been transporting passengers to and from the airport for the last 16 years in his own taxi, told The Daily Star.
However, he said that to make a profit on the journey he would have to find a return fare, something he is now barred from doing. “We used to drive through the arrivals level and take passengers to their destinations with no problems,” he added with frustration.
Public Works and Transportation Minister Ghazi Zeaiter made a statement on July 19 to try and reassure travelers and taxi drivers about the effects of the changes. The new rules “will ensure the safety of the airport and its passengers and [has not] prevented anyone from working as a taxi driver at the airport,” he said
“[The new rules just] oblige them to use a set standard in terms of pricing, cars and uniforms.”
According to the drivers in the Airport Taxi parking lot, there are 200 official Airport Taxis. They say this is sufficient to make sure that passengers can still catch lifts easily.
Charles Abou Harb, president of the Taxi Companies Syndicate and General Manager of Charlie Taxi, expressed his discontent with the new law.
“The rule is hurting the Lebanese people and its passengers more than it affects the taxi companies,” Abou Harb told The Daily Star by phone.
“If the airport taxis were doing a good enough job, then no one would have to call the private taxi companies,” he added.
“In airports worldwide, the parking is free for the first 30 minutes and around 2,000 taxis work to and from the airports. In Lebanon, we pay $4 for the first 30 minutes and the customer is forced to pay this, in addition to his or her taxi rate,” Abou Harb continued.
“Our taxi drivers now have to wait for an hour to get into the airport and another hour to get out. There are six exits from the airport and only two are open normally,” Abou Harb said.
Several taxis quoted between $10 and $11 from the airport to Downtown Beirut, but added customers will now also have to pay for the terminal car-park fees of $4.
Abou Harb said that the airport taxis often charge customers exorbitant rates for journeys, which is why so many shun the official syndicate for a trusted outside provider.
Timothy Boykin, an American tourist who recently visited Lebanon, told The Daily Star he was shocked when the price quoted by an Airport Taxi from the terminal to his hotel near Zaitunay Bay was $26 – more than double private taxi companies. “Luckily I had a local with me and I was told that the price was absolutely absurd,” he said.
Abou Harb called on Zeaiter to review the new rule.
“The minister is kindly asked to review the new regulation, which only allows certain taxis to enter the arrivals gate but does not penalize them for disobeying traffic laws inside and outside the airport.”