Issued on: Modified:
In grid-locked and heavily polluted Cairo, start-ups are looking for technical solutions to solve transport headaches for a growing size that is already struggling with over 20 million people.
With only three metro lines and overcrowded, disused buses serving the capital, public transport extends to its borders.
“The traffic problem in Greater Cairo has resulted in very low average speeds, not exceeding 10 kilometers per hour,” says traffic expert Osama Okail, from the University of Cairo, who says the solution to the capital’s misery must be to fix public transport.
Cairo, the most populous Arab city where a fifth of all Egyptians live, is ranked as the 30th worst in the world for congestion, according to TomTom, the Dutch manufacturer of car navigation systems.
Runaway growth has driven the ancient city to a turning point.
The Egyptian government has embarked on an ambitious urban transformation, but it is mainly focused on the construction of a new administrative city about 50 kilometers east of Cairo.
In Cairo itself, several giant road flights have been built to avoid clutter in densely populated suburbs, criticized by some for the architectural damage done to historic sites.
For middle-class consumers, riders and delivery giant Uber and its subsidiary Middle East Careem have moved to close the gap between poor public transport.
But technically savvy Egyptians are also looking for their own home-grown solutions.
– Five days in traffic –
They include start-up Transport for Cairo (TfC), which launched a detailed survey of the city’s routes including informal transport networks to provide “actionable and high-quality data.”
The data is used “to improve urban mobility”, to help commuters best navigate the city and shorten travel times.
“By mapping large cities and using the data for future planning, we hope to be able to change them for the better,” says TfC founder Mohamed Hegazy.
“We are working with the authorities to change how the system works.”
At the moment, an informal system of minibuses, motorized rikshawar, taxis and millions of passenger cars clog the city’s bumpers to bumpers.
TomTom estimates that a driver in Cairo wastes more than five days a year and sits still in traffic.
It has a dramatic impact on labor productivity and amounts to as much as $ 8 billion lost each year, according to a 2014 World Bank study.
It is estimated that Cairo’s traffic jams could cost Egypt as much as four percent of total GDP.
– Heavy costs of pollution –
Making the journey easier is a way to get commuters out of private cars and into public transport, which reduces traffic jams.
Another start-up, Ocra Wallet, is trying to digitize the estimated $ 30 million that circulate as cash daily in commuter rates through its phone app, creating contactless payment to pay for tickets.
“We are working to make transportation payments easier,” Ocra founder Khalid Khaleel told AFP.
Ocra, which means fare in Arabic, subsidizes fares by selling advertising to private bus companies.
“The money that comes from what we use to help users as well as drivers,” Khaleel said, adding that he believes that by stopping cash management, the app can also help reduce coronavirus transmission.
Meanwhile, the riding service Tink hopes to break into the carpooling sector with an app that creates social networks of ordinary friends who go to the same destination.
“We’ve made co-driving more of a social gathering,” said one of Tink’s founders, Adel al-Mahrouky.
Traffic jams mean higher levels of harmful emissions, with air pollution costing about one percent of GDP, the World Bank estimated.
For Egyptian technical experts, the hope is that online solutions can help make much bigger changes.
Map maker Hegazy believes his data could put Cairo on the path to “the ultimate goal” – to decolonize the transport network.
“Everything has to be electric,” he said.
© 2021 AFP