In Egypt, traditional taxis losing ground
Cairo - Chauffeur cab booking services have come to Egypt, redefining taxi services and threatening the livelihoods of traditional drivers who monopolised taxi transport for decades.
“Business has been steadily going down since these services emerged in our country,” said Ahmed Shawqi, a taxi driver in his mid-30s. “I am sure this business will keep declining day after day until it shrivels up altogether.”
The chauffeur cab booking services in recent months have taken tens of thousands of clients from Shawqi and Egypt’s other 400,000 taxi drivers.
Offering newer model cars and good-looking, stylishly dressed drivers, some fluent in more than two languages, the new services aim to serve people frustrated with traditional taxis. The new taxis stop at the doorsteps of clients and help them book rides online at surprisingly affordable prices.
Fatma Taha, a 24-year-old makeup artist, says she is becoming addicted to the new service.
“To say the truth, there is a total difference between the traditional taxis and the new service,” Taha said. “The drivers [of the new service] are clean, the cars are new and comfortable and the fare is not exaggerated.”
Cars operating within the new service charge clients 130 piastres (about 13 US cents) per kilometre, about the same as traditional taxis. The drivers arrive on time, according to clients, do not demand extra money for rides when the road is crowded or when traffic is bad and — most importantly, say some customers — do not harass their female clients.
Drivers such as Shawqi are not falling silent, though. They stage protests, hold news conferences, submit complaints at government offices and take their grievances to the airwaves. They claim the new service will make them beggars because they take over clients, even though they do not have licences to offer transport to the public.
They want the government to ban the new service but officials say they cannot shun investment. Egyptian Local Development Minister Ahmed Zaki Badr on March 19th said the government works to legalise the service and offer it a licence.
“I am surprised at the war traditional taxi drivers wage against us,” said Karim Atef, a 38-year-old driver with the international chauffeur cab booking service company Uber. “We serve clients left behind by them, namely those living in remote areas who cannot reach a traditional taxi.”
Mustafa Mohamed, a 32-year-old driver with UAE-based company Careem, said clients entrust him with their family members because they can track him down during the ride through the global positioning system (GPS).
“Apart from this, my clients can report any mistake I commit to my company, which does not happen in the case of the traditional taxi drivers who are self-employed,” he said.
All these are probably reasons why traditional taxi drivers are getting less sympathy and support from a public, many of whom have harsh tales to tell of taxi rides.
Taha said a few months ago she was almost abducted by a taxi driver who drove her and her sister away from their destination. They were saved by her brother-in-law who happened to be close to the place the driver took them.
She said another time a man flagged down the taxi she was riding in and got in the car. He turned out to be a friend of the driver and both men smoked hash inside the car as she shuddered in fear in the backseat.
“But this is not to say that all traditional taxi drivers are bad,” she said.
The losses drivers such as Shawqi are sustaining are very real. He said he used to earn $22-$44 a day but now has $11 in fares on the best of days.
“Clients have already gone to the new service,” he said. “I do not know what to do.”
Female-only taxis, called Pink Taxi, began offering rides a few months ago. Pink Taxi targets women, who are often victims of sexual harassment during taxi rides.
There are three chauffeur cab booking services operating in Egypt but the number is expected to rise, considering the success of the current operations. The services are offered in Cairo, Giza province and the coastal city of Alexandria. Executives say they will soon expand to other provinces and cities.
“We do not threaten the traditional taxis in any way,” said an executive from one of the companies offering the services. “The Egyptian market is big enough for all of us to work and make profits.”