A cloud of suffocating grey and clamorous honks set the scene of an average day in Egypt’s capital, Cairo. The city, home to 20 million people and almost 3 million licensed vehicles, has gained a notoriety for its extreme levels of traffic congestion. According to The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAMPAS), Cairo ranks the 4th worst city worldwide in terms of traffic congestion. Although many other mega-cities are heavily congested, the impact on Cairo’s economy, environment, and public safety is like none else in severity. The significant economic impacts are demonstrated in the 8-billion-dollar annual loss, a staggering 4% of Cairo’s GDP. This lost money accounts for countless hours wasted in traffic and the environmental impact of the emissions. In addition, traffic congestion is a huge threat to public safety. Cairo reports 1000 annual deaths and 4000 additional injuries due to accidents. In contrast, urban areas like New York City, report less than 300 fatalities per year. Therefore, the situation needs immediate attention from those in charge, particularly considering the exponential rise in vehicles in the past 4 years.
In regards to this crisis, most government rhetoric has been focused on short term solutions that eventually get rolled back. Such as updating the current bus services available or providing a more regular one instead of opting for mass transit systems. Another approach widely maintained is the increase in fuel prices. Throughout the past 5 years, fuel prices have jumped by almost 70% and with it the amount of vehicles on the street. Increasing the price of a relatively inelastic product will only have short lived effects. Furthermore, attempts at easing the problem by opening new roads has largely failed. For a while, the streets witness some relief, but in no time the new roads encourage all the suppressed trips. In return, increasing the congestion. Such decisions will only prove efficient alongside other long term solutions.
As an urban planning expert and a consultant to the national project headed by the ministry of transportation, I believe the secret lies in the salvaging of the public transportation system, and in introducing a new culture of environmental sensitivity to the public. Egypt’s demand for transportation is almost 30 million trips a day, 22 million of which are covered, leaving a deficit of 8 million, what we refer to as suppressed trips. Opening 10-15 new metro line has the potential to decrease the traffic problem by 40%. Right now, there are only three metro lines in Cairo. Although expensive, metro lines have showed to be a necessary investment for most countries. Moreover, implementing a Bus Rapid Transit, a bus-based public transport system that combines the carrying capacity and speed of a metro with the flexibility and simplicity of a bus system, will relieve the congestion by giving priority to buses in roads. It will also encourage citizens to opt for buses on work trips, which make up almost 50% of all transportation.
A main hazard is the air quality in Cairo, which is 10 to 100 times of acceptable world standards, and raises the risk of respiratory diseases and cancer considerably. In addition, many citizens are uninformed of the threat of global warming; they do not see how protecting the environment is each person’s responsibility. As a proposed solution, I believe in introducing bicycle commuting, an idea quite foreign in Cairo. Around places were people usually commute, like university campuses, factories, etc., the ministry of transportation would place bike rentals. Students and workers alike can rent those bikes for a cheap price on a day to day basis. To encourage citizens to employ the services of the bicycles, at the end of every month, the money paid for the service will be reimbursed to all the bicycle commuters. The price to operate the bike rentals would stand futile against all the money saved from significantly reducing transportation emissions while also reducing traffic congestion and the need for petroleum.
Most importantly, the government should utilize new and old media outlets in an effort to raise awareness about the negative environmental impacts of the emissions caused by vehicle exhaust. Creating an environmentally conscious society requires coordination from both the private and public sector. The end goal is to focus on the long term solution (public transportation) and to move forward in equipping each citizen with a sense of personal responsibility. Cairo’s authority needs the sufficient resources and resolve to move the transport agenda at a fast pace to meet the growing congestion challenges.