Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tips: Hailing a Taxi in Cairo? Know Your Numbers First

By now, you must have learned that White Cabs are the best bet to avoid the 'perfume shop' scam, a characteristic tourist trap, in Cairo!

This is mostly true. White Cabs are usually run on 'meter' so one has a chance to strike a fair deal without being ripped off.
 
However, don't take that for granted. There are indeed some exceptions: 

Short Distances: For short distances, e.g. from the downtown to the Khan El-Khalili bazaar, we found white cabs reluctant to lift us. So we had to negotiate. EGP 5 proved to be good enough and smart enough for a couple of kilometers, or slightly more.

There are many one-way roads in the downtown, so standing in the wrong direction would increase the kilometers and thus reduce your chances of getting a better deal. I used googlemaps.com so that we can follow the correct flow of the traffic even if we had to walk a bit.

Go Color Blind: Going back to the downtown was almost always a problem for us. On our first day, none of the white cabs were ready to go on 'meter' from Mosque Ibne Tulun (Islamic Cairo) to the cramped up labyrinth of the busy city center, where we had been staying.

In the morning, we had been happily transported in the reverse direction with a metered bill of EGP 10. So after sensing the odds, I finally managed to negotiate with a yellow one to take us back for EGP 15. The trick was not to stick with the first taxi you hail but to check at-least 3 to 4.
 
The 'Metered' Scam: It is not a scam actually but a situation that arises inevitably due to the traffic mess in the rush hours. While heading to the Mukattam Hills from the downtown we got stuck up in the notorious traffic. The taxi did not move for about half an hour but the meter did, and did that continuously!

Finally we had to abort the journey! The driver charged EGP 20 against the metered EGP 16. No bad feelings as we ditched him right in the middle of the road!

So these were some of the exceptions we observed. Now the most important tip to make it less intimidating:

Know Your Numbers: On top of everything, knowing numbers and places in Arabic not only helped us to communicate effectively but also reduced the deep-pocketed tourist impression. In addition to our luck, this was most probably the reason why we did not encounter even a single 'perfume shop' driver during our entire one week stay!

Keeping in view the brouhaha on the internet travel forums about Cairo taxi scams, that was quite an achievement.

Fact Sheet: Below is what we paid during our stay:

EGP 10 Downtown (Emad El Din) to the Cairo Citadel, metered, morning 
EGP 15 Back to downtown from Mosque Ibne Tulun (Islamic Cairo), without meter, afternoon

EGP 5 Downtown to Turgoman (Bus Station for Ismailia/Suez), metered, early morning
EGP 10 Ismailia Bus Station to Suez Crossing, without meter, morning
EGP 10 Back to the Ismailia Bus Station (شرق دولہ), without meter, afternoon
 
EGP 7 Novatel Hotel to Emad El Din, metered, past midnight
 
EGP 5 Downtown to Al-Azhar, without meter, around sunset
 
EGP 5 Tahrir (Nile Corniche) to Four Seasons (Nile Corniche), without meter, late afternoon
EGP 20 Four Seasons to Mukattam (journey aborted midway), metered, past sunset

EGP 5 Downtown to Al-Hussain, without meter, afternoon

EGP 35 Downtown to the airport, metered, early morning

1 USD = 6 EGP
1 EGP = 15 PKR

Just to mention, almost all the time we had been carrying the baby stroller and no taxi driver objected on loading that.

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