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The Eco-Traveler

Cairo Cab Exchange

These old taxis are on their way to becoming a nostalgic part of Cairo's past. Photo courtesy of (Andrea Shearer)
These old taxis are on their way to becoming a nostalgic part of Cairo's past. Photo courtesy of (Andrea Shearer)

An amazing thing happened to me while in between dive trips in Cairo. I got into a cab and watched the cabbie start a working meter. An actual meter! I'd never have thought it possible, and was rather pleasantly surprised to have this new experience. Meters, which don't discriminate between locals and tourists, might spell the end of being chased down the street by enraged cabbies who want more cash just because I'm white.
Now, this might not sound impressive to many of you, but for anyone who has ever had to fight, kick, scream and otherwise haggle their way to a reasonable rate, this is a shocking development. The SOP for cabs in Cairo has always been to negotiate a fare before getting in, usually disagreeing with the driver and walking away to find another taxi, oftentimes going through multiple cabs before settling on a fair rate. To have a meter determine the fare is a huge step towards reducing stress in this often overwhelming city.
In addition to meters, the cab I took was new. Very unusual in a city where the vast majority of taxis are thirty year old Fiats held together with some creative duct tape placement a la MacGyver. Even more impressive, it had working air conditioning (a blessing in the summer heat) and there was no fear of breaking down on my way across town.
Sharing the story of this exciting development with my Egyptian friends, they brought my attention to a push by the government to replace all the older taxis and entirely ban any car manufactured before 1979. The Egyptian government has devised a plan to kill two birds with one law: reduce the incredible amount of air pollution blanketing the city and decrease the traffic woes the city faces every day due to breakdowns.
A new exchange program has gone into effect that should assist with both of these goals. Taxi drivers now have the option to turn their old cars in to the government, who will then use them as down payments on new vehicles. The balance owed is then covered in the form of a government loan payable over the course of five years.
The payments work out to be approximately 800 Egyptian Pounds per month (roughly $140 US Dollars). This doesn't sound like much, but for many cab drivers who haven't made a payment on their vehicles in fifteen or twenty years, this is a fair amount of money to find in their already stretched budgets. The government has recognized this as a concern, and in a brilliant move has devised a way for drivers to earn this additional cash. A program has been set up for drivers to paste advertising stickers on their cabs, for which they receive a set amount per advertiser per month, often adding up to be enough to cover the loan. Local and international advertisers have signed up to participate in the program. They are attracted to the program knowing they are helping to solve two major issues the community has been struggling with (pollution and traffic jams) while at the same time getting mobile exposure for their products. (I wonder if this qualifies as creative capitalism?)
While I don't relish the thought of even more advertising in my face as I trek through the overcrowded city, I will gladly attempt to ignore the Pepsi and Coke door, trunk and window stickers knowing that they are assisting in decreasing the smog layer and taking the breakdown-prone off the road.
After spending five years living in Cairo with little to no resolution of these overwhelming problems, it is wonderfully refreshing to see a large leap of progress made in such a short period of time.

The Eco-Traveler

Through The Eco-Traveler blog, Andrea Shearer shares her experiences of international adventure travel, volunteering and SCUBA diving with a commitment to protecting our environment. In the next few months, Andrea will bring her blog closer to home while exploring the natural environment and adventure activities the Midwest has to offer, and will go international again with a volunteer expedition to Nicaragua over the winter holidays. You can reach her at