Egypt’s ‘Pink Taxis’ a success

Friday 09/10/2015
Reem Fawzi, the director of the Pink Taxi company, speaks with her team of women drivers at her office in Cairo.

Cairo - Egypt’s ‘Pink Taxi’, the country’s first female-on­ly cab service, is proving to be a success a month after the rose-coloured cars started circulating Cairo’s over­crowded streets.
Owner Reem Fawzi and her col­leagues have been overwhelmed by the high demand for their services.
“This is more than what we ex­pected when we launched the pro­ject,” she said. “We receive tens of phone calls every day from women who want our taxis to give them rides to different destinations.”
Fawzi launched the service in re­sponse to nationwide demands for women-only transport in a country plagued by rampant sexual harass­ment. Her drivers all are women and men are not allowed into the taxis unless they are in the compa­ny of female passengers.
The taxis are ordered by phone and are equipped with global po­sitioning system (GPS) devices to help the company track the ve­hicles and reach them in case of emergency.
Unlike many of the creaky all-white or black-and-white taxis fill­ing the dense streets of Cairo, Faw­zi’s taxis are neat and clean. Drivers wear uniforms and speak different languages.
Driver Abeer Hosni, a 33-year-old graduate of the Tourism College, said she finds her new job interest­ing.
“The clients always tell me that they feel more comfortable with me and other female drivers,” she said.
She said when she drives her shiny pink taxi, she is looked at with envy by male drivers sitting behind the wheels of their tradi­tional taxis.
The general assumption by most male drivers is that the pink taxis will harm their business by taking away customers. “One of them once barked at me that we would cause him and other male colleagues to lose their work,” Hosni said.
Harassment is a serious concern for women in Egypt, which is sec­ond only to Afghanistan in this re­gard, according to the United Na­tions gender equality and women empowerment entity known as UN Women. 86.5% of Egyptian women surveyed said they did not feel safe in public transportation and 82.6% said they did not feel safe on the streets.
This largely explains the warm welcome the pink taxis received.
“This is a great idea,” Shaimaa Sayed, a 35-year-old housewife, said of the pink taxis. “I will feel safe with a female driver. Male driv­ers always harass female passen­gers.”
Sayed, a mother of two, said she was especially fascinated with the idea that the pink taxis come to passengers’ doorsteps. She said this makes transport easier for women to find, even if it is a little more ex­pensive.
Fawzi has 59 drivers now, all working within Cairo and its out­skirts. She says she selects her driv­ers carefully from among university graduates who could not find other jobs.
After they are hired, the women are trained in communication and instructed about the best roads to use to reach the clients’ destina­tions as quickly as possible.
The pink taxi fare is a little higher than that of traditional taxis. “This is so because we go to clients, pick them up and then take them to the required destinations,” Fawzi said. “This means that we actually go to the clients, not vice versa.”
Some of the drivers have, mean­while, said they found it hard to convince their parents of the idea of driving a taxi, which is mainly a male job in a traditional and con­servative society as Egypt.
Hosni said her father was flabber­gasted when she told him about the new job. “I managed to convince him with pain that I would try the job only for a few days,” she said.
But having been on the job for almost a month, Hosni said she be­lieves it is “enjoyable” although it does not match her education and credentials.
Fawzi gives Hosni and other female drivers who work seven-hour shifts daily, a monthly salary of 3,000 Egyptian pounds — about roughly $375 — a relatively great amount of money for a taxi driver in Egypt.
Fawzi’s company had its busiest times during the four-day holiday marking the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, in September. Her staff simply could not cope up with the soaring demand.
“Among the customers, there were tourists and very highly edu­cated Egyptian women,” she said. “They are all people who wanted to arrive safely to their destinations without problems.”
Egypt issued its first anti-sexual harassment law almost a year ago, under which convicted violators could face up to a year imprison­ment. However, anti-harassment activists complain that the law is scarcely enforced by the authori­ties, now busy trying to bring order back to the streets after years of tur­moil.
Egyptian Tourism Minister Hish­am Zaazou is expected to honour Fawzi and her drivers soon. She says the government thinks that the project is offering a boost to Egypt’s tourism sector, which has been hard hit by years of turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising.
“Apart from fighting harassment, we want to encourage tourism,” Fawzi said. “We want to show eve­rybody that our country is so safe that women are driving taxis with­out fear.”