As traffic congestions become more frequent and commuters spend more time on the road, an Egyptian bookstore chain launched an initiative that allows cab passengers to read on their way to work or home and called it the 'Taxi of Knowledge'.
The streets of the Egyptian capital Cairo have witnessed in the past couple of weeks the introduction of a fleet of 50 cabs, each with a cloth rack attached to the passenger seat and containing books provided by Alef Bookstores, the sponsors of the project.
The Taxi of Knowledge initiative aims at helping commuters overcome the feelings of boredom and impatience as they are sometimes stuck in traffic for hours everyday while at the same time encouraging Egyptians to read, said Wael Abdullah, head of media and public relations at Alef Bookstores.
“The feedback we've gotten so far is very positive, as we are on daily contact with the drivers in charge of the portable libraries,” he said. “But we’re still waiting till the initiative is one month old to evaluate its success.”
The initial success of the project, Abdullah added, was shown by the fact that several taxi drivers applied to take part and drive a Taxi of Knowledge.
“This encourages us to expand the initiative so that the number of taxis would reach 500. We also want to take the project to other cities like Alexandria, Aswan, Luxor and the Red Sea.”
Abdullah pointed out that the responses of commuters indicate the rising popularity of the project as they start asking for a wider variety of books.
“Some commuters even offered to take part in the project through donating their own books to the Taxi of Knowledge.”
Alef Bookstores have also been getting offers from several private and state-owned bodies to supervise similar projects in the buses that transfer their employees to and from work.
Several publishing houses admired the Taxi of Knowledge project and asked to take part in it, said Emad al-Adli, the cultural advisor of Alef Bookstores.
“The same applies to intellectuals and privately-owned bookstores,” he said.
Adli added that at the beginning, there were apprehensions that the project might fail, yet the enthusiasm of commuters and taxi drivers made things different.
“Now we are worried because the responsibility is doubled. We have to make sure we provide books that suit all tastes and all ages and we have to work on improving the service all the time.”
Dr. Emad Abu Ghazi, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Culture, praised the initiative of Alef Bookstores and cited its success as proof of the ability of civil society to enlighten the public.
“Taxi of Knowledge proves that it is possible to launch successful independent initiatives that do not necessarily rely on the support of official bodies.”
Abu Ghazi added that the Supreme Council of Culture is willing to take part in the initiative and contribute to its success.
Taxi business prospers
Abdel Ghani Ahmed, a 58-year-old cabbie who now drives a Taxi of Knowledge, said that the new project has not only been successful in attracting people to books, but also in making taxi business prosper.
“Now, some people prefer to take a taxi of knowledge,” he said. “They are getting more interested in the books we have and some of them actually buy them.”
Driver Sami Hassan Omar agreed with Ahmed and said his he been earning more since the beginning of the project.
“Several commuters now take my phone number and call me to drive them to places so they can read on the way,” he said. “This happens a lot with people who travel from one city to another.”
Several of his clients also have special requests, especially tourists.
“Tourists ask for books about Egypt in other language as well as maps.”
Omar said he likes reading, too, and that is what made him keen on taking part in this project.
“I sometimes discuss the books with my clients after they finish reading them.”
When asked about the drawbacks of the project, Abdul Ghani said they are minimal and are usually related to commuters who are not familiar with the Taxi of Knowledge.
“Some people are reckless while others might try to take them without paying.”
For Omar, some people make fun of the idea from the beginning.
“But most of my passengers liked it and wished it would be applied to all other means of transportation.”
Better than loud music
Abdul Rahman Nabil Fawzy, a high school student, said he was astonished when he first saw books in the taxi, yet he started to like the idea when he decided to read one of them.
“I discovered that reading is much better than listening to the loud music taxi drivers usually play.”
Fawzy said he hoped more copies would be available in taxis because this makes it easier for people to buy books on their way instead of going to bookstores.
“This will make the taxi both a source of knowledge as well a way for marketing books.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)