Modern air-conditioned cars, working fare meters and decent customer relations were some of the promises the government made back in 2009 to help Egyptians feel happier about taxi rides.
When the ‘white taxi’ replaced Cairo’s old, dilapidated black and white cabs, the cars were clean and their drivers were keen to keep them so. It didn’t take long, though, for drivers to start tampering with the meters to double the fees, while air-conditioners were just auto decor. Some drivers reverted to rude if not lewd behaviour, often refusing to carry passengers to destinations they don’t care for.
With new technology and mobile applications, new companies—Uber and Careem—have arrived in Egypt to guarantee a reliable ride in minutes with no reservations or waiting in taxi lines.
In November, Uber announced an investment of EGP2.2 billion to expand in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, a great share of which is in Egypt, where the service has been growing since it arrived. Cairo has been the fastest growing city for the San Francisco-based company since its launch in the Egyptian capital in November 2014 and its expansion into Alexandria in November 2015.
Dubai-based Careem has also boomed in Egypt, with thousands of their cars providing services in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria.
One tap on your phone and a car comes directly to you. Your driver knows exactly where to go. And you can pay with either cash or card. Choose your ride and set your location. You’ll see your driver’s picture and vehicle details, and can track their arrival on the map with GPS.
Not everyone is pleased, however. The rapid demand for Uber and Careem has aroused the anger of Cairo taxi drivers and caused large numbers to hold protests against both companies, accusing them of illegally stealing their livelihoods and creating strife between taxi drivers and passengers. They claim that Uber, for instance violates the tariff determined by the government—EGP1.4 per kilometre—by asking for EGP1.3 per kilometre.
According to taxi driver Ahmed Kamal, the average taxi driver pays an annual EGP3,000 for taxes and insurance, which places a burden on their shoulders.
“White taxis helped solve the unemployment crisis,” Kamal added. “Most of us drivers have high education degrees but opted to work as taxi drivers. We don’t ask for the impossible; we just ask the authorities to legalise Uber and other illegal companies so that they pay the same dues as we do.”
Another protesting white taxi driver, Muhammad Qubeissy, demanded that the Uber and Careem services be suspended in Egypt because they function illegally, since they use private cars and the drivers have neither taxi licences nor the financial and legal obligations imposed on taxis.
Decency and respect
“Such companies will definitely harm us drivers, especially when many passengers opt to use Uber and Careem,” he added. “If these services become increasingly popular, we drivers will be forced to sell our cars and give up our jobs. The government is wasting a great opportunity that accommodates tens of thousands of young men who would otherwise be unemployed.
“Most of us are still paying instalments on our cabs. These new services crowd us out of our livelihoods. We used to get EGP150 daily a day, but now we don’t get half that.”
Ayman Abdullah, a customer who has experienced Uber and Careem says, “They both are respectable companies with a great model of decency and respecting clients, while taxi drivers have become rude and impolite.
“If white taxi drivers want to keep their livelihoods they should improve and develop their services.”
Uber’s operations manager in Cairo Abdellatif Waked, says Uber is licensed as a technology company in all the countries in which it operates. He stresses that they pay taxes and carry commercial registers.
Mr Waked added that Uber’s partners – limousine, tourism and car rental offices – actually act as offices for anyone who wants to join Uber as a driver. These outlets are licensed and have their own commercial registers.
He says 2,000 drivers a month apply to join Uber. They first undergo a drug test, and then go on to training sessions on how to use maps. Because working with Uber features safety, 5 per cent of Uber drivers are women.
Mr Waked argues that the company is trying to encourage taxi drivers to join the ‘Uber platform’. The service is open to negotiation and discussion with taxi drivers so as to include them in the system.
“There are many taxi drivers who have actually joined us as Uber drivers,” Mr Waked elaborated, adding that “the door is always open for more to work with us.”
“The market in Cairo is really big. Taxis don’t need to fight with us over customers,” says Hadeer Shalaby, Careem’s general manager.
Watani contacted Atef Yacoub, head of the consumer protection association, for his comment on the issue. “We cannot say anything about the legal position of any of the companies or the taxi drivers, but we do fight for the right of the consumer to get the best service, and this means that competition on the market is good,” Mr Yacoub said.
Meanwhile the public looks on sardonically, a common remark being, “Why do public Cairo taxi drivers insist that they have every right to plague our lives? “In rush hour, they don’t allow you to get in until they know your destination and agree to drive there. If they don’t wish to do so they simply drive off and you have to wait for another taxi to drive by. You might have to wait half an hour, with no less than four or five taxis refusing to give you a ride. When one does agree to take you, he may ask for double or triple the proper fare as a condition. And all through, you have to sustain the driver’s rudeness and disrespectful behaviour. Then they complain that we now have a decent alternative?”
Why Egyptians prefer Uber and Careem
- Easy, user-friendly mobile application.
- Safety, since the data of all drivers and their cars are known.
- Drivers are rated after each trip. If the score is below four, the driver’s contract is terminated.
- Comfort, as the car goes to the customer wherever he or she is.
- Drivers accept passengers requests, wherever they wish to go.
- Smoking is not allowed.
- Drivers don’t speak unnecessarily; they just reply to questions.
- The application is linked to GPS and the fare is calculated automatically according to the kilometres travelled, so there is no opportunity to tamper with the meter.
- Cars have functioning air conditioning.
- Drivers are professional.
- Drivers never use personal phones when driving.
- No noisy radios or music are turned on.
- Drivers give change to customers.
- Cars are clean and modern.
- Cars are equipped with WiFi.
- There is strong competition between companies, which reflects positively on customers.
30 March 2016