Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1179, (9 - 15 January 2014)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1179, (9 - 15 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

A taxi on the Nile

Frustrated with the crazy state of Cairo’s traffic? Why not try a taxi on the Nile, asks Magdy Salama

Al-Ahram Weekly

Living in Maadi and working in Dokki does not sound like a big deal for somebody who understands the geography of Cairo. Twenty years ago, it used to be a pleasurable drive along the Nile from the one to the other and along the banks of the longest river on the planet. It sounds very romantic, but it isn’t anymore.
The drive used to take only 20 minutes on roads that were only half full, with the only obstacle being rewinding the cassette in the car stereo. Things have changed, though. The tape has become a USB stick, and the Cairo traffic has mutated.
Luxury has its price. We try to improve our lives with gadgets and other technical supports without thinking of the outcomes or the future, or even having consideration towards others or the natural environment. Over the past 10 years, financial institutions have boomed, and the banks have flooded the population with micro-loans, enabling many more people to buy cars. This has led to a dramatic growth in the number of private vehicles in Cairo.  
The city has an insufficient bus and tram fleet and an inadequately developed secondary road network. Automobile ownership in Cairo proper is now estimated at 114 cars per 1,000 people, whereas in 1993 73 people per every 1,000 in the city owned passenger cars. The government estimates that the country loses some $8 billion annually as a result of traffic congestion.
 Every morning I start the ignition of my car knowing I have to transform myself into a gladiator for the next two hours or so, trying to beat the most dreadful challenge of modern Cairo — the traffic. Though cars are supposed to make life easier and more comfortable, the city’s traffic has made my journey into work a task that almost dictates my daily schedule. The only valid rule in the traffic is to be tough and reckless. There is no space for gentleness or mercy. It’s a case of attack and defend.
A friend of mine explained the rules of driving, or better surviving, the streets of Cairo to me a while ago. Being new to the town, it was fun at the time. I would laugh while trying to explain to friends living abroad how the Cairo traffic operates, with the roads being shared between cars, people, donkeys, tuk-tuks, horses, trucks, sheep, cows and sometimes even camels.  
A few years later the fun vanished, and the real-life play-station game every morning transformed my life into a nerve-racking, almost suicidal mission to reach work on time in disregard of my mental state and remaining energy actually to accomplish the day’s work.
I was on the verge of a semi-mental break down each morning, wishing the worst to half the population, or at least to the ones attacking my living room on wheels. It was then that I realised that the only way to deal with the road was to get off it.
 A fellow victim, a friend who was sharing my suffering each morning, introduced me to a new way of reaching my destination — Nile Taxi, a company providing a much-needed transportation service on the Nile. It operates with speed boats, and it is very much like the bus service on the roads, except that it is much faster.
It was like heaven to me. Each morning I would start my way to work by walking down a few steps towards a wooden walkway stretching onto the calm surface of the Nile. The water reflected the images of fishing boats. My perception of my surroundings was transformed. No more cars. No more fighting. No more stress. Instead, there was the wind in my nostrils and the sun letting me forget it was a normal working day. I sat there waiting for my taxi… my Nile Taxi.
The speed boat took me in to Dokki in 10 minutes, where the car would need one or two hours. After enjoying the beauty of arriving at work in not more than 20 minutes from Maadi to Giza once more, and paying only LE20 (an ordinary taxi would have cost me LE25) for the pleasure, I had the urge to see who the mastermind behind this business was.
I contacted Peter, whom I call when I need to reserve a ride with Nile Taxi, a young man fluent in English. “Right now, Nile Taxi is running only a few boats, but as the demand is rising the boats will soon increase in number and size,” Magdi Ghali, the owner of the company, told me in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly.
In order to simplify communication with its delighted customers, Ghali explained that the company would soon be launching an application for smart phones. “The era of cassettes is obviously over, and the application will tell the customer where and when the next boat is and allow him to reserve a place for the desired ride,” he added.
This businessman was also ecologically concerned. The engines of the boats run on regular fuel, but Ghali was thinking of using something more ecological, something that the average Egyptian may find rather annoying, like the sun. He sees his boats running on solar energy in the future.
I sincerely hope that Ghali succeeds in his endeavours, for the sake of transport, for the sake of keeping sane, and for the sake of the environment. It might even be the answer to the growing amount of stress people experience while trying to get through the congested streets of Cairo.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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