In a crowded city like Cairo, the metro is considered the fastest means of transportation, used by almost all classes and segments of society. Different work and college hours in Cairo mean the Metro is always jammed with passengers, who sometimes have to miss several trains, hoping to eventually find a less-crowded one to take.
For years, the metro has been a vital means of transportation for Cairenes and the government. It is preferred by citizens as the cheapest and the fastest transportation method to cover long distances, and by the government as it draws millions of pounds into the state coffers daily.
Yet, passengers have always reported poor services in the metro due to regular technical problems, overcrowding, and accidents. Last June, 16 people fainted inside a metro in Cairo due to overcrowding.
Two months earlier, a Cairo metro train crashed with the buffer stops on the third metro line, causing it to derail; the driver sustained injuries.
Additionally, the underground has been occasionally targeted with small improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and metro stations have been regularly closed down for security reasons.
Such incidents have fuelled public dissatisfaction over low-quality service, prompting some frequent passengers to prefer higher fares in return for better quality and safety.
According to figures stated by the government, around 3 million passengers use the Cairo Metro every day. With a ticket price of EGP 1, revenues from the metro are estimated at EGP 3m per day.
With approximately EGP 90m in monthly revenues of the service, Minister of Transportation Saad Al-Geioushy said in press statements in November that monthly losses from the metro amount to EGP 20.5m, due to the difference between the actual cost of the ticket, and the price it is sold at.
If the total cost of the service is EGP 110m, according to official figures, the National Authority for Tunnels (NAT) collect approximately 80% of the service’s cost. To address the losses, the government has for years been consumed in deliberations over increasing the price of the metro fare.
Several statements were made by government officials over the past years announcing that the price would change, but were quickly retracted in fears of the social backlash that would likely result from such a decision.
With commuting being a daily cost for most Egyptians, and with most Egyptians resorting to more than one form of transportation to get to their destinations, the repercussions of increasing the prices have been difficult to gauge. Many have contended that raising the price of the metro could be the final straw, leading to widespread public dissent.
The most recent announcement of adjusting metro prices came in early March, when Al-Geioushy said in a televised interview on Al-Hayyah satellite TV channel that his ministry is planning to lift subsidies on the metro ticket price.
Al-Geioushy said the ministry’s proposal includes a pricing policy of EGP 3 for air-conditioned metro cars and EGP 2 for non-air conditioned cars. Commuters will be charged based on the number of stations they pass through, rather than charging the passenger with EGP 1 for the whole service. It means that commuters will be charged differently according to the number of stations they use,
A few days later, Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Ahmed Ibrahim denied the news, claiming it is false and “misinterpreted by media personnel”. Ibrahim said the minister had originally meant to say that the ministry is still in the planning stages and has not yet reached a decision.
The spokesperson said the minister made it clear that any decision taken will not affect “lower income citizens, students, and disabled individuals”.
The incident was not the first of its kind. Since December 2014, government officials have issued conflicting reports on the price hike, with discussions at the Ministry of Transportation evolving around the possible increase to cover the Egyptian Company for Metro Management’s deficit.
Rumours at that time said the increase will see tickets rise from the current EGP 1 to between EGP 1.5 and EGP 3, based on different lines and according to the number of stations used.
Cabinet spokesperson Hossam El-Kawish also denied the news at the time; however, he said that it is untenable for ticket prices to remain at EGP 1, in comparison with the services offered.
The statement made activists and frequent metro passengers think that the rumour was an attempt by the government to “test the waters”.
Ticket increase will go to maintenance: transportation ministry
When asked about the outcomes of the studies on increasing the metro ticket prices, Ibrahim told Daily News Egypt that the metro company is still studying the proposal to increase ticket prices.
Local media reported that the ministry will have to obtain parliamentary approval before the application of the decision. Ibrahim however denied this, clarifying that the price increase is a governmental decision. “The parliament has the right to reject the decision,” he said.
Ibrahim explained that the ticket increase will not exceed EGP 1, making the final price EGP 2. “The increase in revenues will all be directed to improving the service,” he noted.
The metro suffers from regular damages due to poor maintenance, which in turn is the result of the lack of funds, according to Ibrahim.
“The metro needs these additional funds to periodically perform maintenance work,” he said.
When asked about how the transportation ministry will ensure that the price increase doesnot affect low-income citizens, Ibrahim said the ministry will obtain information on the metro users’ income levels the state-run Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC).
Ibrahim continued that students and disabled citizens will be able to use the metro according to the current prices, even after the implementation of the new pricing policy.
In accord with the official narrative, some people think that EGP 1 is considered a low fare. However, Mohamed Balah, a professor of transportation at Ain Shams University, argued that the government should consider different price categories depending on the distance travelled by the user, instead of setting a higher price across the board.
“We can’t charge passengers who use five metro stations at the same rate as passengers who use 15 stations,” Balah said.
Balah did concur that the price of the metro ticket is lower than the actual cost of the service.
In order to attract more revenues to cover the operational costs, Balah suggested increasing the commercial shops in metro stations so that the metro company can make profits out of renting spots.
The metro company can also increase advertisements in metro carriages, Balah added. He also suggested that the metro company can set different prices at peak hours.
Metro passengers disagree over possible price increase
Taking the metro home at 4 pm has become somewhat of a burden for passengers. This is the most crowded time of day, and there is no guarantee that there will be a spot for everyone. Nabila Ahmed, a medical student who takes the metro from Helwan every day to her university in Qasr Al-Eini Street, said she found the idea of increasing the ticket price “laughable”.
“I don’t really understand how they have the nerve to believe we will pay extra pounds for this poor service,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed spends EGP 40 every month on the metro alone, in addition to the cost of taking the microbus she uses from and to the metro.
“Does the government think that we spend just that EGP 1 per day on transportation?” Ahmed asked in a frustrated voice.
A 64-year-old notary employee stands in a long queue to buy a ticket in Dokki metro station, his face bearing clear signs of irritability. Abdelrahman Safwat told Daily News Egypt that he would have to spend the majority of his salary on the metro ticket if the government considered counting the prices on the distance travelled.
Safwat travels through 24 metro stations every day to and from his home and work.
Public employees earn a minimum wage of EGP 1,200 monthly, as per a government decree issued in 2013. The private sector had requested a similar decision at that time, but discussions have been on hold since then.
However, a sizeable segment of Egyptians are employed in the informal sector, which accounts for approximately 60-70% of the size of the formal sector, according to a study by the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies (ECES). As such, many of their salaries do not begin to approach the minimum wage set by the government, and a 200% mark-up in metro ticket prices would majorly burden their budgets.
Conversely, Nadine Ashraf, another commuter, said she has travelled to many countries in Europe and the metro price in Egypt is the cheapest that she saw.
“I know that some people can’t afford higher prices, but still it is unfair to take metro from Heliopolis to Cairo University, for example, for only EGP 1,” Ashraf said.
Ayman Fahmy, an engineering student, also contended that raising the ticket price is the only way to improve the service.
Ticket increase could finance metro expansion
The ministry spokesperson further highlighted that the additional funds from the ticket increase to finance the service expansion.
Egypt spends billions of pounds on upgrading the metro service and adding new lines to the network, with a rate of EGP 750m annually, according to NAT official figures. The metro network in Cairo consists of five lines. The third and latest line to come into operation is nearing completion, while the fourth and fifth are still in the planning stage
The National Authority for Tunnels (NAT) is moreover considering expanding the service to other governorates, as it plans to construct three metro lines in Port Said and others in Ismailia, as part of the Suez Canal Area Development Project. Introducing the new metro lines is expected to cost EGP 4.5m over the next three years.
Since its establishment, the NAT has successfully built the Metro Lines Networks (more than 83 km), in addition to other relevant establishments and utilities. Investments for the project have amounted to EGP 23bn, at a rate of EGP 700m every year.
Egypt seeks funds for the expansion from foreign financial institutions. The most recent fund obtained for the metro was last December, when the Minister of International Cooperation Sahar Nasr signed a finance agreement with the European Investment Bank (EIB) worth €200m for the third phase of the third metro line project connecting Imbaba to Cairo International Airport.
Through the deal, all stages of the third metro line are expected to be completed in 2022, with a total length of 40.4 km. The third line of the metro includes 32 stations with a capacity of about 8.7 million passengers.
A total of EGP 80bn is required to fund the wider expansion of Egypt’s metro network, which also entails building the first phase of the fourth line metro line in Cairo.
The implementation for metro line projects is deemed costly as it is broken down into six main units of work: central control, communications and signs, civil and electromechanical works, railway operations, mobile units, and a unit for ticket equipment.
In addition to that, the NAT spends EGP 750m annually on maintenance works for the metro.
Egypt aims not only to improve the transportation service, but also the surrounding environment. In an attempt to resolve the issue of street vendors selling products in subway carts, the Ministry of Transportation offered kiosks in which those vendors can sell their products.
Four kiosks were built in Dar Al-Salam station and 20 more are expected to be built by the end of the month on the first metro line, CEO of the Egyptian Corporation for Metro Management and Operation Khaled Sabra told Daily News Egypt.
Further, the metro company recently adopted a smart-card system for metro tickets, allowing users to recharge an electronic card with a certain value of money, as a substitution for normal tickets.
“These types of things make me think that the government wants to improve the service, but they also have to take into consideration the low-income passengers,” said Ahmed Samir, an accountant, who nonetheless believes that the metro is a far better option than driving for two hours to get to work.
Yet, despite years of delays, a ticket price increase is in the works. What remains to be seen is how these changes will factor into the complex system of social factors and other political pressures.