February 21, 2005 12:00 PM

A ride in a New York City cab conjures many images: high speeds, grumpy drivers, a brush with death. But romance? Fuhgeddaboutit!

Ahmed Ibrahim is out to change that—one single passenger at a time. Ibrahim, 50, a cab driver in the city for 21 years, has been running an informal dating service out of the back of his taxi for the past 12 months. It started when a young woman named Katie got talking to him about how she couldn’t find a decent date. Ibrahim offered to give her number to the next good guy he met—and a matchmaker was born. Since then, he says, he has set up more than 30 pairs of passengers. “When people get in my car they open up,” says Ibrahim, who emigrated from Egypt in 1980. “I tell them my ideas about life: Don’t worry so much. You need to smile.”

Natalie Dillon, 33, a recent grad student, and Martin Karamon, 34, a tax attorney, are still smiling eight months after Ibrahim set them up last June. Should they eventually tie the knot, says Karamon, “there’s a seat with his name on it right up in the front row.”

There are rules: Daters must be over 25, looking for a soul mate and have a job. Ibrahim tapes phone numbers on a digital voice recorder and checks with women before giving their numbers to men. As for his own love life: Of course Ibrahim is dating someone. They met— where else?—in his cab.

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