Saudi Arabia's Transport Ministry has come up with a novel way to cut traffic in the kingdom's congested cities: Taxis will now be banned from cruising the streets and picking up passengers without an advance booking.
The new policy, announced Friday, is part of a major revamping of the taxi system that will require drivers to install an Automated Vehicle Locator in their cars. The Big Brother-like device will allow authorities to track their every movement. Unauthorized stops, excessive speeds or driving without an assigned passenger pickup can lead to fines up to $1,300 or license revocation for repeat offenders, Al Madina newspaper reported.
The new monitoring system was necessary to limit the number of vehicles on busy streets in the two main urban centers of the kingdom, Riyadh and Jeddah, where 31,000-plus taxis are licensed to operate, the newspaper said.
The change is expected to primarily affect women, who are prohibited from driving in Saudi Arabia and banned from bus travel on most urban routes as well.
Anyone wanting a taxi -- even from heavily traveled venues like airports and shopping centers -- will have to call in advance to get a car dispatched, Al Arabiya news agency reported.
Neither news story specified when the new tracking system would go into effect.
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--Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles
Photo: Saudi women are dependent on taxis for travel and errand-running as the kingdom prohibits women from driving, and most urban bus travel is exclusively for men. Credit: Fayez Nureldine / AFP/Getty Images