Documentary evidence: Samson Fernandez’s driving licence and car registration were confiscated for giving a lift to a pedestrian at Ibn Battuta Mall. Image Credit: Francois Nel/Gulf News

Dubai: Offering a car lift to a stranger may be construed as an illegal act carrying a hefty fine in Dubai.

The Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has warned that private motorists are banned from charging money for car lifts.

The “illegal passenger transfer” violation carries a fine of Dh4,000, a senior RTA official told Gulf News. The fine is increased to Dh5,000 if not paid within 15 days.

But there is no watertight system of determining if money changed hands in alleged violations.

Many of those fined had unsuccessfully argued their “passenger” was a non-paying friend or colleague. Others claimed to have simply entertained a free lift request from a passer-by.

By contrast, illegal taxi or car pool operators pick up paid passengers along the way or run an organised service with routine scheduled trips at weekly or monthly rates. Such individuals offer cheaper fares than licensed taxi services to lure passengers.

A senior RTA official clarified the RTA encourages group transport but the practice must be “through proper system-approved channels.”

Furat Al Amiri, director of franchise and vehicle monitoring at RTA, said: “If there is a return from this practice, such as money or petrol filling, then it is considered [illegal] car pooling. If no money is being taken, then the fine isn’t right.”

He added: “My question is, would you pick up unknown suspicious persons and offer them a lift? For people’s safety and security, the RTA and police are doing great efforts to eliminate problems that could happen from such practices.”

Gulf News had inquired how inspectors check if the violation is genuine.

“Inspectors check the relation between the drivers and passengers. If there is a relation — friends, neighbours or colleagues — then the fine is not issued,” Al Amiri said.

But an Indian marketing manager claimed that he was trapped by the RTA inspector. He said that last month he was fined Dh4,000 for “illegal passenger transfer,” but he denies any wrongdoing.

Samson Fernandez claims he had pulled over next to the metro stop near Ibn Battuta mall to ask directions to “Parco accommodation area.”

“I was asking around when a man from south India said he would take me there as he knew the way. He got into my car and offered me Dh25 – I refused. Just then a plainclothes RTA officer showed up and asked the man to step out.

“The officer asked him if I had demanded any money. To my surprise, he said ‘yes’ and I was fined,” said Fernandez.

He added that his driving licence and car registration were also confiscated.

“I tried to explain the whole story to the officer but he didn’t listen to me. I told him I don’t need to give car lifts, I get a decent salary. He told me that if I insisted I was not guilty, what I should do is contact the RTA customer service centre.”

Fernandez said that he visited the RTA centre in Al Muhaisnah where he filed a complaint.

“I was told my case will be reviewed but it’ll take some time. I don’t understand what’s my fault in all this – is it illegal to ask for directions? Is it your fault if someone helps themselves into your car to talk to you?”