Thursday,23 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1273, (3 - 9 December 2015)
Thursday,23 November, 2017
Issue 1273, (3 - 9 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Tip at will

Nevine Khalil tells how to commute in Cairo with ease and at a reasonable price

Al-Ahram Weekly

Another hectic day. Pick up photos, stop at bank, go to the school in Haram, go downtown for work, stop at the club in Mohandiseen, pick up groceries and then go home. How to do all that efficiently and comfortably, while making social and work calls, putting on make-up, in Cairo traffic, and only making a reasonable dent in your wallet?

Reach for your smartphone and touch the Uber or Careem app. If the phone’s GPS is turned on, your location immediately shows up on the app. If you prefer not to tell your location to the world, punch in the address where you want to be picked up.

Place a request for a car, type where you want to go and within seconds the name of the driver, his or her photo, and the car model and licence number pop up. You can contact the driver by text or call, although both apps will notify you when your car arrives.

You can accomplish a long to-do list with a smile on your face in a clean, air-conditioned private car with a respectful driver who does not expect a tip, and without worrying whether or not you have enough cash on you.

Uber only deals with credit card transactions and charges about the same as a white taxi. Careem charges slightly more than a white taxi, uses credit cards, but you can also use cash and leave a tip. Since fare metres are fair and consistent, even if you are stuck in traffic for 55 minutes instead of an average 20-minute ride, you’ll only be charged LE21 instead of the usual LE14. Uber will even round down the fare so you don’t pay a fraction of a pound.

But fares don’t stay low all the time. At certain hours, not just rush hour, there is a temporary surcharge. You can accept or decline, or choose to be notified when rates drop, which can be only a matter of minutes or much too long for your frantic schedule.

Drivers are safe, respectful (rarely making eye contact) and never chatty. They use their turn indicators, slow down for pedestrians, don’t play chicken with other cars, park curbside for pick-up/drop-off and follow traffic rules.

In fact, Uber clients are obligated to rate their experience after every ride (you can’t book another ride until you have submitted your rating), and any complaints or remarks are responded to promptly.

If the driver takes an unnecessarily long route to your destination, the extra distance is deducted from your charge, and if you note the car was not clean enough or the driver was not cordial, the driver will be reprimanded. With Careem, Uber’s main competitor on the market, rating your ride is optional but you have the advantage of advance booking.

Mahmoud, an elderly gentleman who speaks impressive English and worked in Saudi Arabia for decades, is now a Careem driver.

“I prefer cash, because then I can fuel up with the money during the day,” Mahmoud told Al-Ahram Weekly. “I use the income from Careem for extra cash,” he said.

Careem, a Dubai-based company, started in Egypt one year ago and grew from five cars on the first day of operation to thousands of rides roaming the streets of Cairo and Alexandria.

Daily earnings of a Careem driver — or “captain”, as the company prefers to call them — can average between LE350 and LE500, with a fortnightly bonus, depending on the quality of service he provides. Careem and Uber drivers pocket 80 per cent of the fare.

“The biggest challenge was changing the mentality of Egyptians,” said Karim Ebeid, Careem’s marketing manager for Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. “It was hard to persuade people to sit behind the wheel all day,” Ebeid said. “But this is honest, available work for anyone who wants it.”

Today, Careem “captains” include many youths as well as doctors, engineers and even a university professor, he said.

The second challenge is some clients who treat drivers as inferior. “That was another hurdle, because we don’t want our captains to be treated that way,” said Ebeid. “We have even blocked clients who are repeat offenders.”

Careem opted to use both cash and credit cards because Egyptians are more comfortable using cash, said Ebeid. In fact, about 80 per cent of Careem rides are paid in cash. Unlike Uber, Careem also allows tips and has a call centre for complaints. “Egyptians prefer to talk to a live human being, not email a complaint.”

With Uber, however, there are no telephone numbers to contact if you ever want to book, complain or just chat. “We really want the experience to be as seamless as possible,” explained Anthony Khoury, General Manager for Uber Cairo. That is also why there is no tipping: “Part of the seamless experience is not carrying cash,” Khoury added.

He admitted, however, that relying on credit cards alone is a challenge and the company is exploring additional methods of payment. “We believe it is the way things are heading, so it will remain an important advantage of our technology,” he noted.

Uber, a San Francisco-based company, arrived in Cairo and Giza in November 2014 and last weekend began operations in Alexandria. The number of drivers who joined the service has grown 73 times in one year. “We don’t own a fleet of cars,” clarified Khoury. “We are a technology platform that connects riders to drivers.”

But, alas, nothing is perfect. Nora had a bad experience with one Uber driver who called rather gruffly to ask where to pick her up, and then told her he couldn’t make it because he had an appointment.

She was only temporarily stranded because within minutes another Uber car was there to pick her up. That gave her enough time to give the first driver a terrible star rating and cited him as the reason for cancelling the first car request.

Availability is not always guaranteed, either. Trying to order a car when you are in distant lands (read: suburbs) is frustrating. So if you are going far afield (the outskirts of 6 October, 5th Tagammu), ask your driver to wait; he should agree. The app’s estimated pick-up times are usually completely off the mark because GPS does not factor in delays caused by Cairo’s maniacal traffic. It’s laughably outrageous to think you can get from Mohandiseen to Heliopolis in just 13 minutes.

Drivers will usually ask if you have a “preferred route” or, more simply, “Do you know the way?” because GPS will just about always take the longest, worst route. If you know where you’re going, save time and give the driver directions.

“I’m from Benha, not Cairo, so I need to use GPS or ask the client,” Fathi, an Uber driver, told the Weekly. After many years as a chef, Fathi, 30, decided to do something else. He applied to Uber, took a driving test, a quick technology (smart phone, GPS) and very basic English class, submitted a background and health check-up, and was hired.

Fathi has been on the job for one week and expects to make LE1,200 per month. He was also told he would receive two per cent of all fares, but was not entirely sure what his net income will be.

“I thought I would make more if I work a 12-hour shift,” he said. “The money is too little.” Fathi’s 12-hour shift is not the safest plan.

He will definitely make less money than other Uber drivers because he does not own the car he is driving. It belongs to a car rental agency, which is a method Uber and Careem use to expand their fleet of cars.

But another Uber driver, who preferred not to give his name, said he is happy with his job. He drives his own SUV, clocks in about nine hours a day and estimates that he will make a minimum of LE5,400 per month. His deal is to receive LE25 per hour, whether or not he gets clients. This driver was hired only ten days ago, after leaving his job in real estate.

The Uber manual guides drivers on how to deal with clients, especially women, who are a top target of the service: “Avoid looking at female clients; don’t chat; NEVER contact the client once the order is complete.”

For all clients, drivers are not allowed to talk on their phones or smoke. Reprimands for complaints about the driver’s attitude —the state of the car, asking for a tip — range between two weeks’ suspension after a second complaint or immediate termination if there is a serious offence such as harassment.

In fact, Uber has partnered in several public campaigns, including Harassmap which trains all drivers to “recognise, prevent and take positive action” against sexual harassment. In October, cars on the Uber app appeared pink as part of the company’s contribution to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, partnering with Baheya Hospital for Early Detection and Treatment of Women’s Cancer.

Another novel idea was when Uber teamed up with the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA) to deliver puppy playdates to clients. The puppies were dropped off for 15 minutes of “puppy cuteness” for a LE50 fee and were all eligible for adoption, according to the Uber website.

The best perk of all, however, is that by using Careem or Uber you can give up owning, driving and parking your car on Egypt’s frantic city streets.

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