In Egypt, traditional taxis losing ground

Friday 25/03/2016
A taxi driver leans his head against his hand in desperation during a recent protest by the drivers of the traditional taxis in downtown Cairo.

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.”