An Idiot’s Guide to The Metro Debacle

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Being one of the most densely populated cities in Africa, Cairo has had to come up with solutions to combat the traffic caused by its 21+ million inhabitants. In 1987, the Egyptian Metro was born; becoming the first of only two metro lines in Africa and one of four in the Middle East. Many Egyptians rely on this means of transportation to avoid traffic and get to work in the cheapest possible way.

For most of our adult lives, the metro ticket cost one EGP, with no stipulations or conditions. Upon the election of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the former general made it clear that Egypt’s economy had suffered terribly and it would endure some tough times to get back on its feet. Unfortunately, not many people understood what that would mean. In March 2017, the price of a metro ticket doubled to two EGP - along with price increases in gas, electricity and water - in an attempt to withdraw some of the subsidies put in place by former governments.

Image from melovision

On 11 May 2018, the prices were hiked again in a surprise turn of events that seemed to have very little coverage beforehand. When Hesham Abdel-Wahed (the head of the parliament’s transportation committee) spoke of the issue initially, he claimed that he was unaware of the sudden announcement. He noted that although he did stipulate that talks were wrapping up for such a system, he believed that the manner with which it was announced side-lined a lot of people.

The new metro prices will see the adoption of a more European system of pricing; with the lowest ticket costing three EGP and going as far as nine stations, followed by a five EGP ticket that goes up to 16 stations, and finally a seven EGP ticket that exceeds 16 stations.

The Cairo Metro is run by the National Authority for Tunnels, which has reported over 600 million EGP in losses compared to the 500 million EGP lost in the 2016/2017 fiscal year. The price surge has been attributed mainly to the upkeep and maintenance of the current metro stations as well as the building of new ones.

Every day, the Egyptian metro carries about four million passengers who rely on the method of transportation for reasons as varied as education, health, work and family. Now, talk of protests and boycotts might find the emergence of these four million Egyptians from beneath the surface and up onto the already fraught and congested Cairo streets. The effects of the price hike has seen the first overt acts of government opposition in quite a while now, with around 21 people being arrested over the weekend for various rebellious actions taken in the wake of this price hike, mostly at the Helwan Metro Station.

Image from Egyptair

The increase in prices does not only come purely for the upkeep and construction of the metro lines; rather it is a condition among many put forward by the IMF, who in 2016 agreed to a 12 billion USD loan to the Egyptian government. Part of the conditions that came with the loan is a decrease in government subsidies. Gas prices have increased several times since late 2015; going from 2.25 EGP/liter to five EGP/liter at the moment. Prices for electricity and water consumption increased and are expected to increase again by 30 June 2018, and a 14 percent value added tax has also been placed.

Whether the decrease in subsidies is ultimately good and will rejuvenate the Egyptian economy or whether the continually increasing cost of living will crush the majority whose salaries cannot sustain them amidst the surges in prices is yet to be known.

With the advancement of technology and the accessibility to ideas and inventions at our fingertips, the fast development of the events following the announcement is not surprising. After the announcement was made on Friday, protests erupted on Saturday afternoon, and a mobile app taking advantage of some of the loopholes in the system emerged. The app operates as an Uber-like system where it offers passengers a chance to switch tickets with other passengers going in different directions in order to pay the minimum three EGP. Whether this app will last or how exactly this whole thing will pan out is unclear, but for those who take the metro on a regular basis, there are different offers that have been introduced in order to make things easier; one of which costs 535 EGP for three months at 26 stations, which works out to a 57.5 percent discount.

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