Like a two-hour traffic jam on the Mehwar, late-night street food and a view of the pyramids, taking a taxi in Cairo is a right of passage that every Cairene must experience at some point in their lives.
We’ve come a long way since Cairo taxi cabs were limited to pre-historic cars with broken meters and crabby drivers. Now, thanks to last year’s government campaign, we have the swanky new white cabs with working meters and AC, although the drivers’ crabbiness preserves. There are even a few private cab companies that offer semi-reliable services (we say semi-reliable because we’ve experienced too many horror stories).
Nonetheless, we at Cairo360 still hear some worrying stories every now and then about taxi experiences that can easily be avoided if you follow a certain protocol. Here are some tips on surviving Cairo taxis, compiled by a savvy and experienced local.
Stick to the New Cabs: By law, the new cabs should have working meters, which prevents drivers from haggling over the price of your trip. They also offer a much more comfortable ride, where you don’t need to worry if the car door will fall off if you don’t keep holding onto it, or how to open the window without the window handle.
Check that the Meter is Working: If it isn’t, get out at once. If you really need to take this cab, make sure you agree on a price before he starts driving. If the price he asks for seems unreasonable, tell him that the new law prohibits taxis from operating with broken meters, and threaten to take him to the nearest police station. If this doesn’t scare him into agreeing to your fee, get out.
Take a Cab From a Populated, Well-Lit Area: If you’re taking a cab at night, it’s best to stop one in a well-lit area that will allow you to check that the driver looks okay, i.e. his eyes aren’t glazing over in a suspicious way. If possible, have a male friend stop the cab and tell the driver exactly where you’re going. Your friend can also loudly tell you that he will call to check up on you.
Greet and Dress Appropriately: when you enter the taxi, say 'Masaa El Kheir' or 'Salam Aleykom'. Even if you’re foreign and the driver knows you are, saying this shows cultural sensitivity and will probably lessen the number of times he asks ‘Where You from?’ Make sure you’re dressed appropriately: cover up cleavage with a scarf and avoid short skirts.
Sit in The Back: Repeat; sit in the back. The only time you have to sit in the front is if the taxi is already carrying passengers and you’re desperate for a lift. Sitting in the back on the other side of the car from the driver avoids you getting into any uncomfortable situations.
Do Not Engage: Don’t get us wrong, there are a lot of harmless and genuinely friendly taxi drivers out there, but if you’re a girl on your own, it’s generally best to be on your guard. Try not to make eye contact with the taxi driver, and refrain from answering any personal questions. Also, bear in mind that any personal phone call you have is being eavesdropped on.
Know the Directions to Your Destination: Some drivers will often suggest longer routes in order to up the meter. Make sure you give clear directions and if he takes a detour, call him on it. If you’re a girl on your own in the cab, avoid taking back roads or highways like the Autostrad or the Circle Road at night.
Notify Your Friends: If you’re feeling tense and it’s a late night drive, call up a friend or a family member, and loudly tell them (in Arabic if you can) that you’re in a cab and when/where you expect to arrive. Ask if someone can wait for you at your drop-off point. Even if they can’t, the driver knows that you have someone expecting you there.
Make Sure You Have Change: Taxi drivers notoriously do not have change; it’s a policy that many (but not all) follow in order to get a few extra pounds out of your ride. Always ask if he has change before arriving at your destination. If he doesn’t (surprise, surprise), ask to be let out at a kiosk to find some change. Kiosks (and many other stores) generally follow the same we-don’t-have-change policy; the trick is to buy something off them, even if it’s just a pack of gum, to force them to give you back your change.
Get out, And then Pay: Or pay as you quickly get out of the car. Stalling will allow the driver to count the money and ask for more. If he does ask for more, get out of the car and tell him firmly that this is all you are paying. Walk away from the car against traffic.
When in Doubt, Ask For Help: If you’re unlucky enough to be stuck with a super cranky driver that’s willing to fight you to the end for that extra five pounds he thinks he deserves, your best bet is to walk to the closest store or policeman and ask for their help and intervention. Burst into tears if you can. Hide behind a large, burly man. At the end of the day, though, it’s not worth getting all hot and bothered about an extra five pounds.
When all else fails,
Take A Cairo360 Cab: They’re white, they’re fabulous and they carry our logo!