The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) began providing assistance to white taxi drivers in 2012, according to its leader and prominent rights lawyer, and former presidential candidate, Khaled Ali.
“We provided them with legal assistance by filing two lawsuits regarding their fare and their licences and helped them establish an independent syndicate,” Ali said in an interview with Daily News Egypt.
The Syndicate for White Taxi drivers is located in Giza and is independent from the official syndicate of transport workers, which according to Ali, is rarely of help to taxi drivers. Two major issues drivers have been facing are also the topics of the two lawsuits filed by Ali.
The first lawsuit concerns financial compensation from the government to drivers, stemming from a plan they implemented a few years ago. The government had required that old black-and-white taxis be traded in with modern cars and banning the licensing of cars that were over 20 years old.
Over a period of three years and through a subsidised system to help drivers with the transition, the government gave each driver EGP 5,000 in exchange for their old cars. The drivers were obliged to sign a payment plan for years in exchange for a guarantee for the coverage of a EGP 70,000 subsidy paid in various methods – such as placing advertisements on the taxis at roughly EGP 500 per advertisement.
Not only did drivers have to bear the cost of the new cars but they also purportedly never actually received the subsidies. Instead they were required to pay monthly instalments with increasing interest rates or face risks of having their cars seized by the bank.
After years of struggles with debts, with the failure of the Ministry of Finance’s plan, taxi drivers demanded the re-evaluation of the real values of the new cars turned into white taxis and the clarification of the amounts and details of the subsidies provided by the government.
In 2015, the Administrative Court approved the lawsuit and assigned a committee of experts to the re-assessment of white taxis’ prices and whether or not drivers had benefited from the government’s subsidies.
In the second lawsuit, taxi drivers faced issues renewing their licences since the Traffic Department at the Ministry of Interior required an official document from the bank proving that payments have been made to reimburse the subsidies the drivers were meant to have received.
“Moreover licences were only renewed for three months, so if one driver failed to abide by monthly requirements, they would lose their license and thus their job,” Ali stated.
The court eventually ruled in favour of the taxi drivers. Currently the validity of drivers’ licences was extended to one year, given that drivers can provide a copy of the court order to exempt them from providing bank statements. ECESR continues to help taxi drivers with obtaining court verdicts in their favour, similar to the previous verdict, granted for 122 drivers.
From a broader perspective, Ali shed light on the problematic public transportation system in Egypt, pressured by high demand from an ever-expanding population base.
“The Traffic Department shouldn’t be the only government institution concerned with taxi drivers’ affairs because its tasks are limited to the confirmation of legal documents, for all categories of Egyptian drivers,” Ali said. “There should be a specialised state body for taxi drivers, responsible for monitoring their performance, legal situation, fare rates, to guarantee the quality of service for clients.”
Most importantly, the malfunctioning taxi system is reflected by the reputation white taxi drivers acquired over “aggressive attitudes towards clients” and “cheating”, among other complaints from passengers who have now turned to application-based taxi services such as Uber and Careem. Earlier this month, white taxi drivers rallied to protest those private companies’ presence in the market, citing “unfair” competition rules set by the government.
“Let’s face the first reality that people like to ride nice cars. But as a white taxi driver, I have to pay heavy amounts for the car, taxes, and annual licence renewal, unlike private cars. This makes the competition between us and Uber or Careem unfair,” organisational secretary at the White Taxi Syndicate Alaa Mohamed said.
He wants the law to be applied on all drivers equally. “The Traffic Department heard our point of view and was convinced. They asked us to file detailed complaints, which we did,” he said.
He complained about white taxi drivers’ salaries, which have not increased in comparison to gas and food price hikes. Another driver, Ahmed Farahat, also highlighted that working individually differs from working for a company.
“If I am caught driving a private car in exchange for money for clients, I will be fined. At the same time, I am paying much more than private taxi for licensing,” he said.
According to Ali, fair competition includes prevention of monopoly, customer protection, unified prices, equal opportunities in terms of capital and taxes, and equal labour rights in the company.
But a social debate erupted as users of the services voiced their preferences to private taxis, shedding light on the poor quality of white taxi drivers. Drivers on the other hand have claimed that a media campaign deliberately distorted their public image. “Not all drivers cheat with the fare, so let’s not generalise. However we admit defects. We are working at the syndicate improving our services and launching our own application to monitor drivers’ performance,” Mohamed said.
Farahat believes that aggressive attitudes are not necessarily related to the job but rather to personalities: “Each driver is on [their] own and the official syndicate does not do much for them.”
Taxi driver Sherif sees no problem in the Uber or Careem companies. “Like us, they are young people trying to earn a living, instead of turning into criminals.”He said some white taxi drivers ruined the service for people. “They use multiple tricks to manipulate clients.”
Sherif said white taxis have also suffered considerably from the decline in tourism. “As soon as I can buy my own car, I might join one of those private taxi companies.”
Many white taxi drivers have taken recourse to having “on telephone customers”, which they say increases their daily income. “The government cannot increase the initial fare because people are getting poorer by the day. Clients actually take taxis to the nearest metro station,” he said.
Ali said ECESR is helping raise drivers’ awareness on customer satisfaction, ethical codes of conduct, safety procedures, and how to adapt to new market changes.