Amid a proliferation of transportation apps like Uber and Careem, five Cairo taxi drivers have launched a new initiative to organize operations with their clients internally through a primitive system.
As the name suggests, Whatsapp Taxi relies on the popular messaging mobile application Whatsapp. The client sends an order for a taxi through Whatsapp at least half an hour before they need it, along with their location. One of the five founders of Whatsapp Taxi receives the message and forwards the trip to the closest driver to their location.
The taxis must be air-conditioned, and the fare is calculated by the usual meter installed in all white taxis. If any disagreement occurs between the driver and client, one of the founders will act as mediator during the trip.
The Whatsapp Taxi team will track the location of taxis through another Whatsapp group, in which drivers’ locations are shared routinely.
Forty-two-year-old Mohamed Abdel Moteleb, one of the founders of the service, holds a BA in commerce and has worked as a taxi driver for years. He tells Mada Masr they started the project with 25 taxi cabs and have now expanded to 120. The organizers vet the taxis and drivers and ensure there is a wide variety of locations covered, he adds.
After every trip, administrators ask clients to review their experiences, much like with Uber. If there are recurring complaints, the taxi in question is removed from the service.
Giant transportation apps like Uber and the UAE-based Careem have threatened business for Egypt’s white taxis. Over 50,000 drivers in Egypt work for Uber, and the company invested LE250 million in the service in Egypt last year. Careem operates with a similar-sized workforce, and Egypt represents half its overall value of US$1 billion.
This threat has led to a number of clashes between regular taxi drivers and Uber and Careem drivers. Large numbers of taxi drivers protested in May, with some of them filing lawsuits against Uber and Careem. In the end, the government approved the operations of these companies, making them officially part of Egypt’s transportation landscape.
Other innovative applications, like Al-Arabi Car and Wassalni, tried to utilize white taxis before Whatsapp Taxi, but they failed to become as popular as Careem an Uber.
Abdel Moteleb attributes this failure to poor planning, the loss of belongings and sexual harassment. He says such services don’t study their markets well, due to their desire to expand quickly. They should focus on specific markets and offer a good service, he adds, rather than trying to please everyone.
“It’s impossible for these companies to take on the market,” he says, adding that this is the reason Careem decided to bring 42,000 white taxis into its service.
Whatsapp Taxi depends on grassroots expansion and targets a particular type of user, so it may work, Abdel Moteleb speculates.
The owners of the service don’t yet have an office, as they mostly manage operations from their own taxis. Their plan is to continue to work for six months and then evaluate, before considering expanding.
Translated by Osman El Sharnoubi