Problems on hold
Taxis are among the basic utilities that reflect the level of advancement and discipline of capitals and towns around the world, and are used not only by locals but by visitors and tourists as well. The quality of the service is measured by the effort it takes to get a taxi, the condition of the vehicle, the efficiency of the driver, and the tariff. With this in mind, it is with many regrets that I broach the topic of taxis in Egypt—and in Cairo in specific—a topic that has long been placed on hold. The substandard taxi service in the country has for decades on end continued to project a miserable image of Egypt; it was even a main factor why Egypt lost the chance to host the 2010 Mondiale, the World Cup football games; South Africa was awarded that honour instead.
Cairo’s taxis have since seen a huge overhaul. New white vehicles replaced the old, dilapidated black ones; modern metres were installed in the new taxis; and a new tariff that was more advantageous to taxi operators and fair to passengers was set. But this did not work to improve the service which remained shoddy and unreliable, still far removed from the superior level of similar services in capitals of the modern world and in many of those of our Arab neighbouring States in the Gulf. To prove my point, I cite some details.
Even though the vehicles used as taxis have been upgraded by law, taxi drivers remain utterly unqualified on demeanour, behaviour, and proper driving. This brings to mind our development endeavours in the field of education; we upgrade the schools but not the teachers who then wreak havoc with the pupils’ minds. Taxi drivers behave as though they believe they do passengers a favour to drive them to the required destination; they appear as though they cannot grasp that they are offering a service which they should strive to perform efficiently in order to earn their fare. The apathy of taxi drivers is all-too-obvious. Many do not even care for their personal appearance; they are dishevelled and wear attire inappropriate for any job, some even drive in the flowing galabiya robe and slippers. They do not bother to clean or tidy up their vehicles, and they have their radios set at a shockingly high volume. Others insist on smoking, oblivious to the health and comfort of passengers. Taxi drivers in Egypt also entitle themselves to accept or decline driving a passenger to a destination that is not to their liking or which involves navigating areas of congested traffic.
The traffic administration claims it imposes tight measures to license taxi vehicles so as to ensure their technical viability and safety on the road, as well as strict driving tests to license the drivers. The drivers themselves confirm and complain of the stringent measures. Yet the manner in which they navigate the streets is nothing if not chaotic and utterly removed from proper driving fundamentals. Their reckless driving risks the lives of passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians. They overindulge in verbal and behavioural abuse. If passengers attempt to object or express concern, they get abused themselves or even kicked out of the taxi midway to their destination. Gone is the time when, some sixty years ago, tact and discipline governed the behaviour of Cairo taxi drivers.
Despite the arrogant condescension of the taxi drivers, their ignorance of Cairo roads and various neighbourhoods—reason enough to withhold or withdraw a taxi driver license in other countries in the world—is shocking. It is common for a Cairo taxi driver to ask you for directions to your destination, that is if he accepts to drive you there in the first place.
If we are to hope for any positive change on the taxi front in Egypt, the law must be strictly applied so that drivers never get away with any violation. The taxi driver syndicate must take it upon itself to educate drivers and upgrade their performance. I also believe that encouraging investment in private taxi companies can work wonders towards a taxi service on par with international standards.
19 July 2015