Dozens of taxi drivers protested in Giza on Thursday against their leading competitor, the Uber driving service, continuing a long chain of protests worldwide against the global app staged in major cities from Paris to Berlin, Madrid, London, Toronto and Istanbul.
Gathering outside the Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque in Mohandiseen, the protesters — all of whom drive white taxi cabs in the Cairo, Giza and Qalyubiya governorates — raised their voices against what they call Uber Egypt’s illegal employment practices and unfair competition.
Aside from the San-Francisco based online car service, the cab drivers were also demonstrating against similar app-based companies, such as the Dubai-based Careem and local companies including the woman-only service Pink Taxi, Faster Line, Private, City Limousine, Express Limousine, Motocar and iCan, among others.
They also chanted against unlicensed taxi services, such as drivers of unmarked private cars who try to make their vehicles look like taxis by installing luggage racks and roof lights.
The app-based companies and these unregistered private cars equally damage licensed taxi drivers’ livelihoods, the protesters claim.
Their main grievances were outlined in a statement that circulated on Facebook. The taxi drivers say they sent the petition listing their complaints to the president’s office in the hopes of an executive intervention in their favor.
Also on Thursday night, another group of protesters filed an official complaint against both Uber and Careem at the Dokki Police Station, claiming the two companies violate domestic traffic and transport laws by using private cars as unlicensed and unmarked taxis, while cheating registered taxi drivers of their incomes.
While the protesters were unified in regards to their grievances, there was little agreement as to what sort of action they would like to see take place.
“We demand the closure of both Uber and Careem,” shouts taxi driver Mohamed Shoeiry at the Giza protest, “as these are foreign companies seeking to monopolize the market and drive us out of business.”
Fellow driver Adel Anwar, who says the competition with the foreign companies has driven him into debt, tells Mada Masr that “we want these private car companies to register their vehicles as licensed cabs, and to pay the same expenses that we professional drivers are obliged to pay. Or they can register themselves as private limousine companies, with extra fees for passengers. Otherwise, it’s just unfair competition.”
Yet another suggestion is offered by Mostafa Yousry, who demands that “a large fine be imposed on Uber and Careem for failing to abide by our national traffic laws. This money, if we ever win it in a lawsuit, should be paid as compensation to us drivers who are suffering as a result of their illegitimate operations.”
“If the government is not going to heed our demands, then we might as well not heed traffic laws and regulations,” continues Yousry, who says he owns three cabs himself. “I can turn my cars from licensed taxis into unmarked private cars and use them as transport commuters at a fraction of the costs that I pay.”
The protesters all say they have to pay the Traffic Police Department LE60,000 for the orange license plate that authorizes them to use their cars for hire.
Cab drivers also have to pay for a professional driver’s license that they must renew every three years, plus obligatory trade union dues, taxi cab registration papers that are renewed annually and a digital fare meter. That’s all in addition to an insurance policy for the vehicle, health insurance for the driver and mandatory health checks each time they renew their driver’s license. All of these fees can amount to thousands of pounds. The protesters point out that Uber and the other app-based cab services do not have to pay these fees.
Several protesters also claim that traffic police are more likely to harass taxi drivers and issue tickets and parking violations against clearly marked taxis, as opposed to the unmarked private cars used by Uber and similar companies.
“We want Uber, Careem and the other companies to pay the same expenses we pay so that we are playing together on a leveled field,” says Anwar. “If not, then we want to be exempt from paying for official licensing, insurance and union dues.”
“Our union, the General Union for Land Transport Workers [an affiliate of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation] does nothing for us except take our money in the form of dues,” Anwar continues. “Not a single union representative is present with us at this rally, and they have never championed any of our causes or stood up for any of our rights.”
Protesting taxi driver Salah Mohamed, on the other hand, wouldn’t have a problem with Uber and Careem if they would agree to hire licensed taxi drivers with marked cars.
Mohamed points to the local app-based company Easy Taxi as an example. “They employ only professionally licensed taxi drivers who drive their clearly marked taxis,” he explains. “Such a company helps officially registered taxi drivers find new passengers via an internet application, and so it helps increase our working hours and working opportunities. On the other hand, Uber, Careem and some other companies do not help, but harm us.”
Uber began operating in Egypt in late 2014, while Careem entered the Egyptian market in early 2015, and both are making their presence felt in Cairo’s domestic transportation scene. They have grown the most in popularity among middle and upper-class commuters equipped with credit or debit cards.
Responding to the protesters’ complaints, Careem Egypt General Manager Hadeer Shalaby tells Mada Masr, “It’s a large market. We don’t have to fight or compete over clients.”
“We would like to meet, talk and discuss means of cooperating with” the disgruntled taxi drivers, Shalaby says, but he did not indicate whether or not Careem would consent to welcoming licensed taxi cabs to its fleet of private cars.
He adds that Careem is a “fully legal company, abiding by all domestic legislation, and we pay our taxes in full to the state. We are providing thousands of drivers with job opportunities each month on both a fulltime and part-time basis.”
Uber’s media spokesperson could not be reached for comment at the time of publication. However, an Uber Egypt press release issued on December 2, 2015 claimed that in the course of one year, the company facilitated 1 million rides in Egypt, and created work opportunities for more than 1,000 drivers per month.
But protesting taxi driver Mahmoud Eissa points out that these claims of job creation aren’t of much help to him, as the companies don’t hire licensed taxis. “If they are creating more job opportunities and income, it comes at our expense,” he argues.
Nonetheless, several commuters have expressed their preference for these app-based cab services. According to local reviews, these services are more convenient, offer reliable fares calculated by applications, don’t require haggling over prices, generally present fewer incidents of sexual harassment and feature fewer cigarette-smoking drivers.
By the protest site outside Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque, one young man passing by explains to Mada, “I prefer to use Uber rather than the white taxis. It’s always on call, with a fixed rate for their fares, and they don’t try to overcharge me. Their drivers take me wherever I want. Unlike some cab drivers, they agree to pick me up and drop me off right at my doorstep.”