Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1226, (18-31 December 2014)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1226, (18-31 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Ending traffic problems?

The government is determined to put an end to traffic congestion and the high number of road accidents, adviser to the Ministry of Transport Osama Okail tells Niveen Wahish

Al-Ahram Weekly

Approximately LE47 billion ($8 billion) is lost every year in the Greater Cairo Metropolitan Area (GCMA) due to traffic congestion, and this is expected to rise to LE105 billion by 2030, according to a World Bank study released this summer.

In comparison, New York loses about $10 billion a year on delays and wasted fuel alone, and Jakarta $5 billion a year, the study says. Cairo’s losses, at $8 billion a year, are high considering that they represent 3.6 per cent of GDP. New York’s losses relative to GDP are a negligible 0.07 per cent, while Jakarta’s represent around 0.6 per cent of Indonesia’s GDP.

According to the World Bank report, this makes solving Cairo’s traffic congestion problems a top priority.

In the past the government went about trying to solve the problems in the wrong way, according to Osama Okail, a professor of transport at Ain Shams University in Cairo and an advisor to the Ministry of Transport.

“It is all about the right diagnosis. The solution is simple: one has to look at how others have solved similar problems,” Okail said, promising that in three years’ time the traffic problems could be resolved and people would begin to see clear improvements in their daily lives.

“Ours is not a unique problem. All big cities have traffic problems, but their secret is public transportation,” Okail said, noting that when people travel abroad they do not hesitate to take public transportation. “Egypt is poorer than these countries, yet Egyptians take private cars in Egypt and this is wrong,” he said.

In large cities, the only solution is to encourage commuters to give up private cars and take public transport, Okail said. But for this to happen, decent public transportation has to be made available either by the government or by the private sector.

Egypt’s demand for transportation in the GCMA is 30 million trips a day, a trip being a one-way commute from one point to another. Some 22 million trips are currently covered, leaving a deficit of eight million “suppressed trips” that are either postponed or cancelled.

Previous attempts to ease congestion by opening new roads have not solved the capital’s problems, Okail said. “At first the new roads provide some relief, but eventually they too become crowded because they encourage suppressed trips.” As a result, new roads actually increase traffic problems.

The strategy now is to make decent public buses, air-conditioned and with guaranteed seating, available. Three thousand such buses will hit the roads over the next three years, as the government works to attract people who are using their cars to go to work to use the buses instead.

The ticket prices of these buses will range from between LE6 and LE8 depending on the distance travelled. Existing public buses charge LE1 per ticket. Despite being more expensive, the buses will attract commuters because they will be cheaper for the user than taking a car, Okail said.

“Cars can be financial burden in terms of maintenance and fuel, especially with plans to make parking three times more expensive than it currently is,” he said. Costlier parking and unsubsidised fuel will represent disincentives to the use of cars, he added.

According to the World Bank study, owning and operating a car in Cairo “is relatively cheap, creating little incentive for people to rationalise their travel or carpool.” The study says that “there are no on-street parking charges, no tolls on most major corridors, and gasoline and diesel are heavily subsidised.”

The new buses will target car owners, as well as people currently taking taxis and microbuses. Okail said that the idea is to target work trips, which represent 50 per cent of total daily trips.

“Employees are the ones who take up parking spaces during the day. If there are fewer employees parking, we can solve the parking problem as well,” he said.

Okail said that a bus taking 100 passengers could transport more than 1,000 passengers per day, replacing around 500 cars. With 1,000 buses per year, a number that will go up to 3,000 in three years, over 300,000 cars should be off the road.

This will create a chain reaction. With fewer cars on the road, there will be clearer roads so buses will be able to move more rapidly and service more people. Even regular buses will be able to move more quickly and be able to make more trips per day.

Taking 300,000 cars off the streets will also ease demand for parking.

To put such plans into action, a company is being formed called the Egyptian Company for Special Transport. Shareholders will include state-owned entities such as Misr Travel and the National Investment Bank.

Okail said that the state should provide the service at the outset because the private sector, which would target profits, might lower ticket prices or make people stand, vitiating the calculations on which the plan is based.

“The plan also needs the support of the presidency because the bureaucratic process could slow it down,” he said.

The new transport network should make some LE2 billion to LE2.5 billion in income, and this will be used to support other public transport. Buses from the new network will also be seconded into the regular system after some years, and five per cent of the new network’s income will go to the public transport authority.

In order to solve the capital’s traffic problems, parking will also become more expensive, Okail said. Parking areas in downtown Cairo will be auctioned off for private-sector management, he said, and the successful companies will pay the government a certain sum for every spot, increasing government income.

Some companies have offered up to LE20 per parking space, adding up to LE2 million per parking area per day and up to LE700 million per year.

Okail said the Cairo metro cannot achieve the same effect on the capital’s traffic as the new bus network. “It is much cheaper to achieve the same result with buses,” he said. The World Bank report also stressed the expense and long time-frames of building new metro lines.

Okail said that the National Council for Road Safety recently approved a new strategy to try to reduce the number of road accidents in Egypt, among the highest in the world. According to a 2012 World Health Organisation report, Egypt loses about 12,000 lives a year due to accidents. Some 50 per cent of these were caused by trucks, Okail said.

In Egypt, 98 per cent of cargo is transported via road and only two per cent by rail or by river, he said. Twenty-two per cent of Egypt’s vehicles are used for transporting goods, a very high figure, since above 10 per cent a country should consider building separate roads.

In a bid to reduce accidents, trucks are currently being moved to such roads, something that Okail said could be done within a year. The cost of the move is around LE4 billion, Okail said, “nothing when compared to the LE20 billion lost annually on accidents.”

The planned move has already been made on the Cairo-Ain Sokhna Road, and it will be introduced on other roads connecting Cairo with various parts of the country.

Main roads in Egypt also commonly pass through urban areas and there were plans afoot to move them outside cities, Okail said. Single-lane roads will be made into dual carriageways in order to increase safety and reduce accidents.

This will not be an easy task, given the shortage of land for building new roads. But, as Okail said, “Things can be done if the will is there.”

Finally, Okail said that if the country wants to see the traffic situation improve it is important to ensure that the law is respected.

“If there is no respect for the law, then there is chaos and corruption,” he said. “We also need to develop the laws in order to ensure that they suit our needs.”

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