Striking Out

Yesterday marked the fifth day of the alleged “four-day strike” of the Petit Taxi industry here in Fes. The Petit Taxis operate within the city limits and is a primary form of transportation since only a very small percentage of families own an automobile. Those who do would generally be considered upper middle class or above. Of the eight families I had hoped to visit and spend time with during this trip only one owns a car. There are still enough cars that there is significant traffic congestion at rush hours (four each day since most businesses and schools close at noon for two hours), but the absence of approximately 3000 taxis on the street has reduced traffic considerably

Each taxi is licensed by the government and the right to own a taxi is a form of political patronage established after the French Protectorate was ended in 1956. For forty-four years Morocco had been a colony of France. A bloody war raged for several years prior to the return of Mohamed V, the exiled heir apparent of the royal family, to reclaim the throne of the newly independent monarchy. Most of the licenses for the taxis were awarded to military members who had served on active duty during the struggle for independence. The owners of licenses were allowed to sell the granted asset or pass it along as an inheritance upon their deaths. In the past 63 years, the population has grown by a factor of approximately four, and the demand for cheap and quick transportation has increased at least as much, especially as the developed parts of the cities increased geographically

In the part of the city where I am staying with a friend, hardly any of the residents own a car. Well more than half of the people who live in the Old City would have to park their car in a location requiring a 20 or 30 minute walk from their home. In addition, few would be willing, even if able, to take on the additional expense of rented parking. Taxis, when not on strike, are always available near the gates of the city, and the cost is very reasonable.

At the present time, the meter begins computing a fare at 2.10 dirhams, roughly 21 cents. I overheard a discussion that the primary demand is a rise in the basic fare from 2.10 to 3 dirhams or 30 cents. Denise and I thought that sounded reasonable but is in fact about a 43% increase. I am not certain, but I think the sticking point in the negotiations is the part of the increase that goes to the driver. Almost none of the drivers own the taxi they drive. Since the licenses can be bought and sold, over the years the more astute business people, especially the families which received the initial patronage, have increased their holdings and control a larger share of the market. The drivers contract with the owners and might benefit hardly at all

I do know that for many people, the past couple of days have been a real hardship. I visited in a home late yesterday afternoon (after a forty-five minute walk). The mother in the family works as a teacher’s aide in a private American school and called to see if the son, who happens to own a car, could come and take her home. It would require over an hour for her to have walked, which she had done in the morning. She called about five p.m. and thus had been at the school almost ten hours. The kindergartners she teaches had been there only eight!

A related problem arises since the public buses which are less expensive (one ride is 40 cents) but at rush hour they are very crowded. Of course it also takes longer because of all the stops. Given there are no taxis, the crowding is unbelievable. I waited for one bus Saturday, but by the time it arrived there were at least three times as many riders as capacity. I started walking again. I think it is important during our time here to get to know as many Moroccans as possible, but I do not need to know that many random folks that well

My scheduled agenda is going to have to be curtailed considerably if the strike continues. I did manage to make it to Zobida’s house for a traditional meal, a required event each trip, but the time I spent with that family was less than the time required to get there and back; a three-hour visit sandwiched between a two hour trek to get there, and two hours to return

The walking itself would be more manageable were it not the rainy season. I had to stand under a shelter for about 15 minutes when a rain shower arrived on the way out, and then experienced sleet for a few minutes on the return. People such as teachers, office workers, hotel and restaurant employees, and blue-collar workers are all having a difficult time. My whining about my situation is not going to help them, I know, but I do hope that regardless of how this strike ends, the folks who need relief the most are somehow rewarded.

Until then I shall maintain my walking shoes as my preferred footwear. My Fitbit declared me an overachiever yesterday! Though helping my ego a bit at first, I realized with adequately low expectations and even minimal talent, one can often achieve more than anticipated. I suppose increased self-esteem is helpful, regardless of how attained.

January 23, 2019

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