Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)
Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Making the Metro better

Cairo’s underground has been improving with the opening of many new lines, but problems still remain, writes Abeya Al-Bakri

Al-Ahram Weekly

With the recent increases in oil prices, public transportation is becoming more attractive to many people. But while a variety of options are available these are sometimes not streamlined into a system that is both passenger-friendly and technologically advanced.

The Cairo underground has been a popular mode of transportation since its inauguration in 1987, and it has gradually built a network which connects north and south Cairo. However, pressures are rising to speed up the network and to make it more efficient to serve the increasing numbers of train users.

Underground public relations officer Ahmed Abdel-Hadi told Al-Ahram Weekly that maintenance in particular was a concern.

“There are three maintenance locations each located close to a working line to ensure prompt responses in emergencies.

There is also an emergency team of technicians available for immediate repairs during working hours,” he commented.

The underground’s new airport line is also a far cry from the older lines. It is immaculately clean, a new private bus line connects to its network and the neighbourhood is well-maintained and litter-free. Two new lines are now being planned, making a total of six lines connecting Cairo from east to west and from north to south.

However, in the meantime the existing lines may have reached the point of saturation. Trains arrive regularly every five minutes, but during peak hours it can be nearly impossible to get into them, unless you have a fighter’s spirit. The public address system often does not work, heralding the arrival of each train, and the carriage doors sometimes close too quickly for people to get on or off. As a result passengers are stressed, and using the underground can be a challenging experience.

One woman emerges from a train in a hurry, panting and frowning. Yet, she still believes the underground is her best means of transport. “It is just the crowds which are tiresome, since my journey takes only 15 minutes on the train,” she explains.

Still, for the novice directions can be confusing and few and far between. Network maps are damaged or illegible, and station listings are incomplete, making it impossible for those not in the know to work out which direction to take. While the new airport line was opened in January, staff did not seem to be aware of the best way to get to Nasr City, for example. One passenger was given directions to go to Abbasiya and from there to go above ground and get a taxi.

There have been many complaints of this sort, and what they have in common is that the underground is not user-friendly.

The stations are not equipped to help senior citizens or families with push chairs. In the Saraya Al-Qubba station a pedestrian bridge has been built to cross from one side to the other, but elderly people can still suffer from the steep steps in the summer heat. Operations seem to be concerned more with the technical aspects of the network than the human element and assisting passengers.

That said, the women-only cars are clearly signposted inside the stations and in the cars themselves. In the new airport line there is a system to prevent jostlings, with incoming and exiting passengers getting off on different sides of the train. This is a vast improvement on the older lines, and while it could not easily be implemented on them, perhaps an alternative system could be looked into. Doors could be kept open for longer, for example.

According to Ibrahim Al-Mougi, an underground engineer, “new state-of-the-art stations are being opened, such as Hada’eq Al-Maadi, and these also have new and more advanced ticketing machines.” However, for the moment there are no plans to upgrade other existing stations.

In general, though the present plans are encouraging passengers need relief from the pressure of the crowds to be satisfied with the underground, still the best of all Cairo’s public-transportation options. According to Azza Fathi, a spokesperson for the system, “the next phase of the underground will be the completion of the airport-Imbaba line, but the date has yet to be fixed.”

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