Cairo upgrades battered taxis, cleans up image

Wed Jan 19, 2011 10:13am EST
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By Sherine El Madany

CAIRO (Reuters) - Grimy old Fiats and Ladas have long been a defining feature of Cairo's creaking taxi fleet, clogging the city's streets and sputtering out fumes.

Now the scruffy black-and-white cabs are giving way to metered, air-conditioned cars assembled in Egypt using kits from firms like General Motors, Hyundai of South Korea and China's Chery. Taxis under the French brand Peugeot originate from factories in Iran.

This transformation is all part of a government-backed renewal plan aimed at changing the face of the Egyptian capital.

The program has boosted sales for Egypt's vehicle makers, hit hard by the global downturn. It is also creating a smarter image for tourists, a mainstay of Egypt's economy, while making a start at tackling choking pollution in the capital.

Civil servant Ibrahim Abdel Razeq, 36, like many of Egypt's poorly paid government employees, works two jobs. The scheme meant he could borrow for a cab to drive.

"I earn 388 Egyptian pounds ($67) a month in my (day) job, which is not enough to provide for my family's needs, so I had to work in this taxi in the evening to supplement my income."

The program, launched in April 2009, came as a welcome fillip to Egyptian firms. It only covers cars assembled in Egypt, although the kits to build them are foreign.

"The program was launched during the downturn of the economy and helped local automakers during the crisis," said Mohamed Abdel Aziz, an official from the Finance Ministry.   Continued...

<p>An old taxi weaves through traffic in downtown in Cairo May 5, 2009. REUTERS/Tarek Mostafa</p>