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Taxi wars hit Cairo
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 09 - 02 - 2016

Dozens of taxi drivers protested in Cairo's Mohandiseen neighbourhood last week against the online ride-sharing companies Uber and Careem, which they say are guilty of unfair competition because their cars are private and are not licenced as taxicabs.
Driver Mohamed Fawzi said that to licence his car as a taxicab he has to pay expenses that private cars do not, including insurance of LE700, taxes of around LE600, mandatory union fees and other expenses.
“I have to pay around LE2,000 each year to renew my taxi licence,” Fawzi told Al-Ahram Weekly. “I am also obliged to renew my licence each year, whereas private cars can renew theirs every three years and are not obliged to pay all these expenses,” he added.
For this reason, Fawzi said there is unfair competition between regular taxicabs and companies like Uber and Careem because the latter's cars do not have to have the orange licence plates that authorise them to use their cars for hire.
The Cairo protests follow many others by taxi drivers around the world against Uber and similar companies, including in Brussels, London, Paris, Warsaw, Sao Paulo and Toronto.
Uber is a San Francisco-based company that arrived in Cairo and Giza in November 2014 and began operations in Alexandria a year later. The number of drivers who have joined the service has grown 73 times in one year, making Cairo the fastest-growing city for the company in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Careem is a Dubai-based company that started operations in Egypt in late 2014 and has grown from just five cars on the first day of operation to thousands now roaming the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. Both companies use GPS to connect riders to drivers and both are been widely used by Egyptians.
While Uber started off with credit-card payments only, it now offers a cash option too and charges about the same as a regular white taxi. Careem offered the two payment options from the beginning, but charges slightly more than a white taxi.
“These companies have affected us badly,” said white-taxi driver Mohamed Awad angrily. “They have taken away the majority of our passengers.”
Awad said that many people now prefer to use the applications and that only those who are pushed for time or are stranded in certain areas now use white taxis. This has affected his income negatively and he intends to sell his taxi as it is no longer paying, he said.
His grievances were echoed by driver Omar Atef, who said he is no longer able to pay instalments on his taxi because of a sharp drop in revenues. He said that as a result of the introduction of Uber and Careem, his income has plummeted. In the past, he made around LE200 a day, but now barely makes LE70.
“No one is ready to use us, and there is also the fact that white taxi fares have been the same since 2009,” Atef said.
He said the only increase was in 2014, when the government increased petrol prices by 78 per cent. Since then, the starting fare for a ride has risen from LE2.5 to LE3, while the fare per km has increased by 14 piastres.
“Imagine that the fare has been the same for seven years despite inflation and the skyrocketing prices of things in general,” Atef said. It is for this reason that some taxi drivers are reluctant to use their meters, in a bid to increase their revenues and try to make ends meet, he said.
The failure of regular taxis to use their meters is been a main reason why some Egyptians have opted to use apps like Uber and Careem instead. Passengers do not want to haggle over prices with drivers or be made to feel that they are not being fairly charged.
Though Atef does not defend drivers who do not use their meters, he says that they have been forced to do so given the “tough and unfair” competition they face, not only from companies like Uber and Careem, but also from unlicenced taxi services such as drivers who use private cars as unlicenced and unmarked taxis, denying regular drivers their incomes.
The taxi drivers spoken to by the Weekly want to see an end to Uber and Careem because they believe the companies pose a real threat to their livelihoods.
Atef said the government should shut down the services or impose regulations such as imposing higher fares on rides through them because the cars registered with them are private ones and are not licenced as taxis. This would be a way to ensure fair competition, he said.
The taxi drivers are not against the concept of app-based companies, and they praise the Easy Taxi app that was launched in Cairo two years ago and allows passengers to book regular white taxis via smart phones.
“This app is very good because it only allows the booking of licenced taxis and it also helps us to widen our passenger base using the Internet,” Atef said.
However, many Cairenes say they would not have resorted to Uber and Careem had the service of the traditional taxis been more satisfactory. Such people say that the new services are more convenient, offer more reliable fares, and that their drivers follow traffic rules and are never chatty.
Uber has partnered with the non-profit organisation Harassmap to train its drivers against sexual harassment, making the cars safer to use, especially for women. “Why should I wait 15 minutes for a taxi driver to agree to take me to my destination when I can order a car in three minutes that will take me wherever I want?” asked Alaa Osama, a Cairo resident.
Osama is a regular taxi commuter who used to haggle over prices with taxi drivers, and described her experience as often unsatisfactory. “If the services of the white taxis were better, Uber and Careem would not have expanded as fast as they have in Cairo,” Osama said.
Uber and Careem have confirmed that they are both operating legally in Egypt and that they are abiding by domestic legislation and paying their taxes in full to the state.
In a December press release, Uber said that in one year the company facilitated one million rides in Egypt and created work opportunities for some 2,000 drivers per month.
Uber is available in more than 67 countries and 300 cities worldwide and has been valued at as much as $50 billion. However, the company is facing trouble in the US and elsewhere, including a class-action lawsuit in California by taxi drivers.
French taxi drivers have also escalated their anti-Uber protests, and the country's highest court has decided to uphold a ban on Uber's low-cost services.
Careem is trying to dominate Middle East markets and, in only three years, has expanded its operations to 20 countries, from Morocco to Pakistan.

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