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Checkerboard progress in Egypt
As Cairo says goodbye to its unruly fleet of black-and-white taxis, opinions are divided. Some will miss their chaotic charm but many believe an overhaul is overdue, says Trends magazine.
February 21, 2010 5:12 by Louis M. Wasser
“There’s a huge demand,” Youssef says – and the numbers prove him right. By mid-December, 28,500 drivers had received loan approvals and more than 18,100 drivers had been allocated a car. Meanwhile, some 16,330 cars had been scrapped and more than 15,450 new licensed vehicles had been received by drivers – indicating a lag between turning in vehicles and getting new ones.
The older taxis being replaced are often in dilapidated condition, continuously breaking down and requiring repairs.
The chairman of the Public Works Department at Cairo’s Ain Shams University, Ali Salem Heikal, says that the aspect of the 2008 legislation removing older taxis from the roads will be beneficial. “It will contribute, of course, to better traffic movements because bridges here are built assuming that traffic does not stop,” he says. “But cars break down – private cars and taxis – so it will help, definitely.”
And Cairo’s roads can use all the help they can get. Drivers routinely flout safety regulations, and if traffic isn’t moving chaotically and at seemingly suicidal speeds, it’s often crawling or even stopped entirely.
Besides being cleaner and more mechanically sound than most black-and-whites on the road, the white taxis have an added bonus: functional meters. While black-and-white taxis technically have meters, they are a hodgepodge of different styles more suited for an art exhibition than an organized system – and their tariff systems are woefully out of date, ensuring that they are never used.
People pay fares according to unspoken agreements or negotiations, and arguments between passengers and drivers are common. The new white taxis have a uniform meter system, reducing the potential for disagreement.
“The new taxi [system] is sweet because it prevents problems between the client and the driver,” says a 42-year-old driver, Khalifa Ahmed Khalifa. Some passengers, however, say that drivers sometimes tamper with their meters in order to increase the rate.
Although yellow cabs – which are owned by private companies and also have meters – have been around since 2006, they are not nearly as common a sight on Cairo’s streets as the newer, individually owned, white taxis.
Proponents of the replacement program cite additional benefits regarding emissions, among other things. And the country’s car manufacturers have benefited from the program as well.
“It happened at the right time,” says the chairman and managing director of General Motors Egypt, Rajeev Chaba. “The global economic crisis hurt the Egyptian auto industry last year and the taxi replacement program helped generate production volumes for manufacturers during this rocky time,” he says. GM Egypt sells the Chevrolet Lanos – the most popular model in the program.