Cairo's Yellow Cab
by Sarah Corringham
Tourists have many forms of transport available to navigate the cities of Egypt, though most will not use many of them. In fact, many western tourists visiting Egypt for the first time may never stray away from the buses or other vehicles provided by their tour operator, other than perhaps to take a short ride in a horse drawn carriage (a hantoor). If they do venture off on their own, they are most likely to use one of the air-conditioned private cars offered at most upscale hotels, which are expensive by Egyptian standards but not really compared to western taxis.
However, more savvy travelers, and particularly those on more of a budget, will also utilize the more common cabs available in most major Egyptian cities. In Cairo, these are the thousands of cars running about that are painted black and white, though this color scheme is different in different cities. They are not air-conditioned, and their state of repair can vary considerably from car to car. They also contain no meter and, while one might negotiate with the cab driver prior to taking such a cab, most people who are adequately familiar with them simply know how much is expected given the distance one is wishing to travel and the prevailing traffic conditions. That can be a bit daunting for some tourists who lack experience with these cabs. However, the benefit of these cabs is that they are extremely inexpensive. One can travel clear across Cairo for little more than it would cost simply to step into a cab in New York.
Very savvy tourists in Cairo can also use the Metro, which is even more affordable than the black and white taxis. The metro is clean, and can get one from one end of Cairo to another for next to nothing.
Other forms of transportation include mini-buses and normal sized buses, though tourists would rarely use these. They are mostly used by locals to get around town very cheaply, though ex-pats and some very knowledgeable tourists might occasionally use these as well. In some other cities, there are also a few tram systems.
However, things are changing. In March, 2006, Cairo introduced the modern Yellow Cab, beginning with a fleet of 150 cars operating around Cairo, operated by three companies. The aim of introducing these new cabs is to cut down on pollution, and increase the level of comfort for passengers, particularly foreign tourists. The government estimates that as many as 1500 Yellow Cabs will be operational by the end of December, 2006. This new effort is referred to as the Capital Taxi Project.
Basically, this is an effort on the government's part to phase out the old black and white taxis, which are often in poor condition and in need of repair, and thus also a considerable source of pollution. The new yellow cabs have been fitted with catalytic converters so the exhaust fumes are filtered. Furthermore, they operate on cleaner natural gas.
These cabs are equipped with air conditioning, seatbelts, and meters and have a no smoking policy which applies to all of the drivers. They are also expected to be equipped with credit card reading devices, though this apparently has yet to be added, due to the immense amount of funding required for that service. The three companies are also waiting for the government to approve and issue a license to use the Global Positioning System. This will allow the companies to know where there drivers are and make getting from place to place more efficient.
Presently each of the new cab companies operate fifty cars. The companies are City Cabs, Cairo Cabs and International Cairo Taxi. City Cabs and the Cairo Cabs are usually found at designated pick up points as their hotlines have not yet been launched due to the high demand for this new service. However, once the number of cabs has been increased, one will be able to call the hotline for a cab. Currently, one can find many of these cabs around Tahrir Square in Downtown Cairo.
International Cairo Taxi does have its call center up and running, but so far that has proven to be a dismal service. The lack of organization combined with there not being enough vehicles to cope with the amount of calls received has led to many complaints questioning the reliability of the Capital Taxi Project. However, as the other companies come on-line and more cars are added, the system should improve.
The drivers have been given short courses in English and orientation tests on the routes of Cairo. Nevertheless, one should not expect perfect English, and Cairo is a huge city. Cab drivers have never known every district. Traditionally they have had to rely on stopping to ask questions as they enter unfamiliar districts. However, this does represent an improvement over black and white taxis, where drivers may or may not understand any English, and have little or no training on city routes.
By comparison, the new yellow cabs are certainly more expensive than the old black and white cabs, though they are also considerably nicer and more comfortable, with their air conditioning. However, their meters start off with a charge of three and a half Egyptian pounds, which is more than many black and white taxis charge for short hops. Currently, the meters then add one and a tenth pound per kilometer which, depending on traffic conditions, might or might not be too much more than what a black and white taxi might charge. However, perhaps not having to worry about how much to pay, or haggling with the driver over the fee might well be worth any additional charge, as this is still not much for most foreign travelers to pay in order to get around Cairo. Keep in mind that, at the current time, one Egyptian pound is equal to less than 20 cents USD.
Somehow, I doubt that the black and white taxis will ever go completely away. They are too economical for common Egyptians, but for tourists these new yellow cabs offer a very welcome addition to the transportation mix in Cairo.