Aimlessly cruising with a private vehicle in a country like Egypt should not be a personal decision, where citizens lose hours in commuting, which leads to increasing pollution and consuming significant amounts of partially subsidised fuel. The chronic problem of Egypt’s traffic congestion constitutes of drivers’ misbehaviour accompanied by no real penalties, using a large car for a single purpose, consuming substantial fuel for errands that could be run online, and many other aspects that need to be tackled.
The dissatisfaction of the Egyptian government that lies in being criticised without presenting alternatives policies is a false argument. There are plenty of good ideas to soften Egypt traffic congestion, but the government is not willing to address it yet. The deficit of financial resources and drivers’ bad behaviour are fabricated claims by the government, in order to defend its defectiveness in this matter. In fact, applying the laws on violating drivers will bring sufficient income that the traffic police complains is lacking. Below are ideas that could be further explored by the government.
Commuting is a corporate responsibility
Commuting in Egypt should be moved from being an individual responsibility to a corporate one. Each entity should be responsible for transporting its executives and employees from home to work and vice versa via the most efficient method at their own expense. This should entail private, public, or even civil society entities that are estimated to be running 24 million trips in Greater Cairo on any given working day.
Corporate commuting responsibilities should also entail hiring people, who live near their work places, transferring employees to branches closer to their residences, enabling people to work from home whenever possible, prompting car-pooling, ie grouping with other entities to reduce transportation cost. Entities that want to privilege few of their senior executives to commute with their private cars should purchase unsubsidised fuel for them, popped up with the respective cost of pollution and carbon emissions.
Penalising violating drivers immediately and incrementally
Speeding drivers that the government always screens and penalises are not the riskiest factor in this mechanism, while the misbehaviours of many other drivers are the crucial factor that the government needs to tackle by creating a mechanism to notice misbehaviour and penalise it immediately.
Violating drivers need to feel the pain of their traffic violation instantly with a clear notice of incremental penalties for further violations. Egypt is known for its corrupt “backdoors” that enable most outlawed drivers to skip paying traffic violations’ penalties; thus, immediate payments of high value and in a timeframe of 24 hours is required.
Monitoring heavy vehicles and group transportation
Heavy trucks and buses should be controlled by issuing a law in which those vehicles ought to install a GPS and request permission for their routes in advance, instead of moving around roads at their convenience. Driving off-route will be penalised, while incentivising vehicles that are able to arrange double-route trips. Traffic violations of private transportation drivers should be paid by their respective companies that would have an interest in better disciplining their drivers.
Taxi drivers and similar private vehicles should not drive around hunting for passengers. The government needs to arrange special parking and waiting areas for the drivers and passengers, accompanied by the ability to reach them online and via mobile phones.
Upgrading traffic police capabilities
In order to operate the above, two separate traffic police units are needed. One unit should be responsible for designing and monitoring the new policies and regulations, and the other should be responsible for enforcing such policies. Current police officers and staff should apply to occupy either position after going through necessary training and getting a decent salary that will motivate them to take true significant responsibilities.
In conclusion, the above ideas could be fine-tuned and enhanced by traffic experts. People who often come with excuses for not being able to loosen up current traffic conditions should not be involved. We might need to hire a new team that believes the problem could be solved, who might succeed in some aspect and fail in another, but certainly better than those who don’t have a single solution for our chronic problem.
Mohammed Nosseir is a liberal politician in Egypt, was a member of the Higher Committee, and headed the International Relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012.