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Taxi wars
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 08 - 03 - 2016

At 12am Moataz Mohamed picked up a customer from 6th of October City for a drop at Haram. During the course of the journey, he was stopped at two checkpoints where the police men asked to see his licence and demanded to know whether or not he worked with Uber.
“We don't usually face problems with security checkpoints at night. During the day, however, at checkpoints manned by the Traffic Police, Uber drivers can be detained for short periods,” says Mohamed.
Last week one of Mohamed's fellow Uber drivers was stopped in Nasr City and detained for several hours before being released without charge. Over the last three weeks more than 50 drivers have been detained, only to be released after a few hours in custody.
In South Cairo's Bassatine district, police officers booked Uber and Careem cars for rides on 28 February and then arrested the drivers when they arrived to collect what they thought were ordinary clients. The prosecution office only released the drivers after they paid fines of LE700 each for using private cars to transport fee-paying passengers. In other districts, Uber and Careem drivers have been released by the prosecutor without any fines being paid.
San Francisco-based Uber began operations in Cairo and Giza in November 2014 and expanded to Alexandria a year later. The number of drivers who have joined the service has grown 73 times in the last 12 months and Cairo is the fastest-growing city for the company in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Dubai-based Careem began working in Egypt in late 2014 with just five drivers on first day. Now it has thousands. Both companies use GPS to connect fares to drivers.
The Ministry of Interior began to clamp down on the services offered by the companies after licenced taxi drivers staged demonstrations against what they allege is unfair competition.
“Uber and Careem are violating the law. They use private cars to transport customers in exchange for money,” says head of Cairo Traffic Directorate General Alaa Al-Degwy. “The two companies' drivers do not possess taxicab driving licences, which are needed for any citizen who wants to work in public transport.”
Uber and Careem insist they are operating legally in Egypt, abide by domestic legislation and pay all their taxes.
“We are a partner with the Egyptian government in providing new technology that creates more jobs and offers strong support to public transport,” Uber Chief Advisor David Plouffe told Hona Al-Asema in a talk show on CBC TV network last week.
Whilst visiting Cairo, Plouffe met with senior officials to discuss legalising Uber.
“The company is paying taxes and our financial transactions are transparent and open to government tscrutiny,” he said.
While many taxi drivers are unhappy with the competition, some are working to outsmart the newcomers. A group of white-taxi drivers recently announced that they are working with students at the American University in Cairo to develop a new smart phone app, Ousta, which will allow customers to order regular white cabs. No date has been announced for the release of the app. (see p.6)


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