Taxi drivers count on fragile truce to rev up trade in Aleppo
ALEPPO (Syria) - Driving fearlessly under skies free of warplanes and bombs, taxi drivers in Syria's divided second city Aleppo are counting on a fragile truce to revive their trade.
One week into the ceasefire in parts of Syria, the country's iconic yellow taxis are slowly filling the rubble-strewn streets in eastern neighbourhoods.
Ayoub, 27, lives in the rebel-controlled Bustan al-Qasr district, which falls along the front lines in the centre of the city.
"The bombardment and the fact that people were being displaced had a huge effect on our trade," said the father of two.
With residents of Aleppo either fleeing for Turkey or staying at home in fear of air strikes, drivers could barely find any customers.
Rebel-held territories in particular were regularly being hit by air strikes and barrel bombs, while government districts in the west faced daily rocket attacks.
When Syria's truce began on February 27, however, residents of heavily bombed streets began gradually descending on markets and parks.
"Since the truce came into place, we started working again, thank God. People feel safe now because the truce has stopped the shelling and the air strikes," Ayoub said.
Before the ceasefire, he used to linger on street corners hoping to pick up a customer. Other days, he didn't have enough money for petrol.
Ayoub now energetically begins his day by dusting off his classic yellow taxi and drinking a small cup of potent coffee from a local brewer.
Wahid, a driver in his 40s living in the Mashhad neighbourhood of Aleppo, is thrilled that he can once again spend his days driving through his city.
"Before the truce, I didn't dare leave my home during the day" because of the daily strikes from Russian warplanes on parts of Aleppo, Wahid said.
Strikes would start from the early morning and last throughout the afternoon, forcing Wahid to work at night "when the skies weren't full of planes".
"Things have gotten better and the number of customers has increased. I've started to go to work every day from 8 am," he said proudly.
With his young daughter beside him, Abu Mohammad, 26, weaves through the grey streets of the eastern Al-Sukari district.
"I'm on my way to visit my brother. I'm no longer afraid after the shelling decreased" because of the truce, he said.
When fighting in Aleppo first broke out in mid-2012, the yellow cabs saw a significant drop in business as people stayed home or left the city altogether.
And once the metropolis -- Syria's former economic hub -- split into government- and rebel-controlled halves, the taxi trade was hit even harder.
Cars had difficulty crossing into neighbourhoods controlled by opposing sides, and an economic crisis meant residents often opted for cheaper buses or shared cabs instead of taxis.
Access into and out of the city became dangerous, making it difficult to get fuel to drive at all.
Cars became a luxury in Aleppo, both for taxi drivers and regular residents who drove themselves to work before the war.
Abu Mohammad, a carpenter in the Zabdiyah neighbourhood, recently sold his car and has begun using taxis to get to work.
"I was forced to sell my personal car out of fear there would be a siege on the city, because I thought money in my pocket would be better than a car in the street with no gas," he said.
Like many other daily necessities throughout Syria's war, the price of a taxi ride has shot up.
Abu Mohammad said he pays 300 Syrian pounds (about $1.50) to get to work every day, while a trip from one end of the city to the other cost 75 pounds before the conflict began.
Although the truce has brought relative safety to her neighbourhood, Mona, 19, said the financial burden of using a taxi hasn't changed.
"We don't use taxis unless it's absolutely necessary or we're in a rush, like going to university on exam day," the student in the government-held Mokambo district said.
Khaled Hamo, 33, works in a sweet shop in Aleppo's western districts.
"Whether or not people use taxis depends on their economic situation, not on the security situation," Hamo said.
"If they have more money, they use taxi cars, and others use shared cabs or private cars."