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London cabs in Cairo

The landscape of Cairo transportation services has widened in the past couple of years, with yellow cabs and white taxis eclipsing the infamous black-and-white taxis, and each option appeals for different reasons. Now London Cab adds to the variety with a fleet of cars identical to the famous Hackney carriages prevalent in the British capital–recognizable to anyone who has visited the UK or seen the Harry Potter movies–offering airport transportation, tours of the city, or scheduled taxi service. But you may be out of luck if you want to take a London cab in Egypt and happen to also be Egyptian.

When I called the dispatch service to schedule a pick-up, I was asked about my nationality before they agreed to the fare (I am Lebanese-Syrian). When pressed, a company customer service operator told me, “The ministry of tourism forbids us from taking Egyptian citizens in our cars around Cairo. We are allowed to bring Egyptians from the airport only, but any other transportation within the city is available only for foreigners.”

However, nothing on the website of the Ministry of Tourism confirms the existence of these regulations, and calls to the ministry's office went unanswered.

Nabil Benjamin, the owner of Gezira transportation company, blamed tax exemptions. “If a certain company managed to get a tax exemption when importing the vehicles into Egypt,” he said, “then they are forced by law not to cater to Egyptians.”

But the rule might be more of a preference, dictated by the assumption that foreigners are wealthier than Egyptians.

“I think that this is outrageous,” said Claire, a British citizen who has been living in Cairo for the past 20 years. “The owners of these companies really think that foreigners are rich and stupid to offer them such prices.” Claire was not impressed with the idea of limiting this services to non-Egyptians. “These taxis should be aiming to serve the Egyptian who is looking for novelty. I think it is discrimination to limit these services to non-Egyptians only.”

“Some people think that foreigners are the ones with all the money in this country,” said Claire. “They can’t be further from the truth.”

The cab's luxurious model and high price tag will certainly limit the clientele, not by nationality but by income. This comes as welcome news to drivers of older Cairo taxis.

Emad, the proud owner of a white cab, does not consider these new cabs competition. “When customers want to take a cab, they don’t have the patience to call four hours in advance and book the car,” the driver said, referring to London Cab’s booking policy. “People just want to go to the streets and pick whatever car they can get.”

Saeed, who drives an old black-and-white cab, claims that since the spread of white cabs he has seen a change in his clientele. Because his prices are cheaper, and open to negotiation, it is the poorer residents who often opt for his taxi over other options.

Saeed sees the new company, and its formal or informal policies, as normal. “Like everything else in Egypt, there are certain classes for each service,” the driver said, while passing under the 6th of October bridge heading to Garden City. “While the middle class takes the white cabs with AC and meters, these new cars will be dedicated to a whole different level of society.”

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