Metro train entering Kobry el Qobba station, Cairo - Reuters Metro train entering Kobry el Qobba station, Cairo - Reuters

Fare’s Fair

Tue, Jun. 12, 2018
With metro tickets increasing from a flat fee of LE 1 less than a year ago to up to LE 7 today, commuters find themselves up against more austerity measures. Egypt’s Transport Authority, however, argues the increase is a fairer categorization of the fare system.



CAIRO - 12 June 2018: Heba, a 30-year-old employee, was never bothered by all the metro stations she crosses every day during her commute from her home in the southern suburb of Cairo Helwan to work in the Dokki district, west Cairo. She usually spends over one hour on the metro each way.

“Around 19 stations,” she tells the man behind the counter, paying LE 7 as she follows the new pricing scheme set by the government, which increases underground metro prices across the board for the second time. Less than a year ago, prices increased from a flat fee of LE 1 that had been set for 11 years, to LE 2, regardless of the number of stations travelled. The prices under the new system, however, vary according to the number of stations used. The red ticket he handed her represents the highest ticket fare, given for those traveling over 16 stations. Commuters using nine stops fall under the first category, priced at LE 3. The fare rises to LE 5 for those travelling across 16 stations.


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Commuters buying metro tickets - Photo by Hussein Talal/Egypt Today


The decision to apply the new hikes on the Cairo Metro’s fares “could not be delayed even for one more day,” Transport Minister Hisham Arafat said in comments about the expected rise. According to Arafat, the rise guarantees “equality” among commuters, since “it is unfair for a commuter using 30 stations to pay the same fare as another using only three stations.”

During a phone interview with TV presenter Rasha Nabil on state-owned Channel 1, Arafat added that the ministry is being honest with citizens, as these hikes will contribute to the development and renovation of the underground metro system. The rise also came in accordance with efforts the ministry is exerting to contain the LE 618 million ($34 million) worth of losses that the National Authority for Tunnels (NAT) blames on the metro’s previously unchanged ticket prices.

According to Arafat, even with the increase, the state would still be subsidisizing the maximum LE 7 fare by LE 9. The ministry says the fair value of the ticket is LE16.

Before the first rise in metro fare last year, Arafat made it clear that increasing the ticket price is the only way to contain the whopping losses of the authority; he explained that if the ticket price rose to LE 4, it would cover the metro’s operation costs. “But it is illogical to burden people with this rise in one shot.”

The recent move comes as part of the Egyptian government’s austerity measures linked to the three-year loan worth $12 billion secured with the International Monetary Fund.

More than 3.5 million passengers of Greater Cairo’s 21 million residents rely on the subway for their daily travel, according to estimates by the NAT. Ongoing metro extensions are expected to increase the number of commuters to 9 million per day.

The right decision?

Anger among commuters magnified as anxieties over the ticket price doubling in July 2017 had not yet faded away. Reactions expressing dissatisfaction with the new rise varied between a wave of angry posts on social media and calls for boycotting the metro services to pressuring the government to reduce back the fare, to lawsuits filed before the Administrative Court of Justice.

Mohamed Hamed Salem filed the first lawsuit against the Minister of Transport and the head of Metro Company. “I am not against raising the metro fare; the rise is a logical decision to cover losses, but what is illogical and unfair is the application of the decision,” Salem says. He explains that his lawsuit does not challenge the fare rise, but rather the “unfair categorizing of the fare system.” Under the new system, the LE 2 is a fixed difference between each ticket fare, despite the fact that while the LE 2 buys the traveler only nine additional stations for the second fare category, the same amount buys the third-category traveler an unlimited number of stations.

تحقيق عن مترو العتبة والمول التجارى داخل المترو  كريم عبد العزيز  12-5-2016 (3)
Cairo's Attaba Metro Station - Photo by Karim Abdel Aziz/Egypt Today


For Hamed, “fair categorization” would be more stations covered in the first two categories; so the first fare category would cover 12 stations instead of nine, and the following fare would cover 24 stations instead of 16. He says commuters of the third category could enjoy more advantages and freedom to use as many stations compared to the other two categories.

“One more thing determined in the lawsuit is the unfair subsidy distribution among the three ticket categories, with the third one enjoying the highest subsidy rate of LE 9 cut off the original price.”

The decision to raise the fare was neither carefully studied nor was it well introduced to the mass population, Hamed argues, questioning the feasibility of the rise to cover losses. Other lawsuits suggested alternative ways to cover the company’s deficits other than raising the fare, like renting out advertisement screen spaces to private companies.

Agreeing with Hamed’s remarks, some NGOs similarly objected to the government’s claims about metro losses after the first fare rise to LE 2, arguing that consumers are footing the bill for costs of maintenance and the upcoming expansion of metro lines.


Passes and discounts

After the rise, officials encouraged commuters to use discounted passes that cut around 44% of the ticket fare for 180 trips. For a commuter like Heba, who travels a roundtrip from Dokki to Ramsis, a three-month pass would set her back LE 540, compared to LE 1,260 if she bought single-fare tickets. The trip used to cost her LE 120 a monthly prior to the rise.

Her 180 trips, however, might be consumed before the three months are over according to the frequency of use, Heba argues, as she might make three or four trips a day. Each pass gives users access to stations in certain zones, and the traveler would have to pay extra for stations beyond that zone. Heba explains that at the end of the day, the 180 trips included in the pass would actually cost her more than LE 700 when we account for the extra costs.

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Egyptian women exit a metro station in Cairo. Egypt doubled the price of tickets to 2 Egyptian pounds, effective from Friday. (File photo: Reuters)



Prior to the price hikes, around 40% of passengers (including journalists, disabled people, army and police members, the elderly and children) received discounted tickets; officials stressed that discounted passess remained unchanged.

For 180 trips, students will pay LE 33 or, LE 41 subscriptions for using 25 or 35 stations, respectively. Disabled individuals’ subscriptions will be LE 22 or LE 27 for the same number of stations. Senior citizens would pay a subscription of LE 135 for 35 stations.


Connecting Greater Cairo

Around 3.5 million Cairenes use the metro every day, switching between stations to reach their destinations while paying an affordable ticket. Launched in 1987, the metro has since become the most important means of transportation, helping passengers avoid being stuck in Cairo traffic or having to negotiate fares with unmetered taxis. There were originally two lines; the oldest one running from Marg to Helwan, south of Cairo, and the second one running from Shubra to Giza. The cost of maintenance and renovations to the two lines is estimated at around LE 30 billion, according to the NAT. Twenty new trains worth LE 2.3 billion have been added to operate on the metro’s first line, which travels between Helwan and Marg City.

In November 2015, a French-Egyptian consortium that included French companies Alstom and Colas Rail signed the contract for the third phase of the third metro line. The third line is the longest metro line in Egypt; it has four phases that would save nearly 2 million daily commutes above the ground, reducing Cairo’s traffic congestion, shortening the duration of commutes and saving LE 250 million ($14.2 million) in the cost of public transportation buses. The project would save up to LE 2.72 billion a year overall, according to NAT’s official website.

Greater_cairo_network_map_-_NAT_official_website
Greater Cairo Metro network map - NAT official website


The third phase of the third metro line will connect Attaba, Bulaq and Imbaba with Cairo University in Giza. The phase will also pass through neighborhoods like Zamalek, Mohandiseen and Agouza. Construction works on the 18-kilometer phase officially began in 2017 and runs through 15 stops. Works are underway for the third phase of the third line covering the distance between Attaba and Cairo University with a length 17.7 kilometers and a cost upwards of €915 million ($1.094 billion). In parallel, the fourth phase of the metro’s third line is under construction; the first two parts of the phase are of 11.52 km length and cost €486 million ($580.9 million) and LE 5.48 million ($310 thousand).

As of September, citizens of Heliopolis will be able to stop at the first station of the under-construction fourth phase of the third metro line, which covers a distance of 48 kilometers, making it the longest metro line in Egypt. The first station of the phase runs from Haroun station to Heliopolis Square. According to Tariq Gamal el-Din, head of the NAT, inaugurating the fourth phase is slated for July 2019; commuters can use this line, which comprises 10 stations with a total length of 15.8 kilometers, to reach Cairo International Airport.

Commuters to Heliopolis previously had to stop at Attaba station on the second line before taking another means of transportation, like microbuses. The air-conditioned metro cars of the third line, running from Attaba to Korba, have arguably made the ride experience to Heliopolis cheaper, faster and more convenient.


Future plans

The government has announced future projects to construct three more metro lines in aims to meet the daily transportation needs of nine million commuters by 2050. The government’s plan is to have six metro lines and five interactive stations, while developing the existing transport services of the first and second lines. During the “Tale of a Homeland” conference held in January, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi spoke about the importance of upgrading Egypt’s transportation sector, adding that the maintenance works for Line 1 of the metro cost LE 20 billion.

The Egyptian government has approved a bid by Japanese-Egyptian consortium Tizi-Orascom to carry out the construction of the first phase of Line 4. The 19-kilometer long line is expected to connect Sixth of October City with Old Cairo through 17 stations, and it will also meet with the first line at Giza station. Works on the first phase of the fourth line cost LE 30 billion. NAT recommended the execution of Line 4 to meet increased transportation demands in the areas of El-Haram, Faisal, Giza, Sayda Zeinab, Al-Azhar and Port Said Street. In December 2017, three foreign coalitions offered to execute the construction of the fifth metro line in Greater Cairo, which stretches across 24 kilometers and passing through 17 stations. Line 5 extends from Maadi neighborhood and connects the first line to New Cairo.

Egypt signed an agreement with Canadian aerospace and transportation company Bombardier in July 2017 to finance and carry out the construction of Line 6. The 20-kilometer line will lessen the pressure on the metro’s first line, which runs from northern Cairo and passes through Shubra el-Kheima and New Maadi. The projects also include establishing the Alexandria Metro, with 18 above ground stations, as well as Port Said tunnels under the Suez Canal, in addition to other transportation projects aiming to lessen traffic in different governorates.
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