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Checkerboard progress in Egypt

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

It’s a ride on the wild side. Arguing over fares, sitting in a seat that’s not bolted to the floor, having door handles break off in your hands. These are just a few of the quirky discomforts that come with riding in one of Cairo’s ubiquitous black-and-white taxis.

Although many of these vehicles are decades old and barely chugging along, the ‘black-and-whites’ are a mainstay of Cairo’s streets – often boisterously decorated, with stereo systems blaring, and adorned with colorful inscriptions, both religious and inane.

But recently the black-and-whites have encountered a new competitor. Many drivers of older taxis are scrapping their vehicles and buying new white cabs. These new taxis – which actually have a black checkerboard pattern on their white bodies – are the result of a Ministry of Finance project that is helping to take some of the older black-and-white taxis off the streets of Greater Cairo. Often seen with the plastic still on the seats, these new white taxis stand in stark contrast to their decrepit black-and-white counterparts.

The taxi replacement initiative was inspired by a new traffic law passed in the summer of 2008 intended to bring order to Egypt’s unruly streets. Among other aspects of the law – which includes everything from requiring first aid kits in cars to an increased penalty for failing to wear a seatbelt – is a regulation requiring that all taxis more than 20 years old be retired, albeit with the legislation stipulating a grace period.

When the new traffic law was passed in 2008, there were some 47,500 taxis 20 years or older in Greater Cairo, and every year around 2,000 more join their ranks, according to Mohamed Youssef, who manages the program and is an assistant deputy minister at the Finance Ministry.

“Without the program [an affected driver] would basically lose his source of income,” Youssef says, noting that the driver would have to either stop operating a taxi, or sell his old vehicle and purchase a new one – an expensive proposition for the driver.

Under the terms of the replacement project, which is limited to Greater Cairo, drivers with taxis 20 years or older who scrap their vehicles get a 5,000 Egyptian pound ($910) incentive payment from the Ministry of Finance, and receive loans from one of three banks on a new vehicle.

Five manufacturers are providing vehicles, and monthly installments range between 940 and 1,755 Egyptian pounds (between $171 and $318). As an additional incentive, drivers are given the option of letting an advertising company put an ad on their car in return for a 550 pound ($100) monthly payment.

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