As any visitor to Cairo can attest, transportation in Egypt is a complicated issue. A number of government strategies have proliferated in recent years, with mixed results, although as of mid-2013 a number of government-led initiatives have the potential to significantly improve Egypt’s transport sector. The Ministry of Transportation (MoT) is responsible for coordinating the nation’s overarching transport strategy in conjunction with a handful of other federal and local agencies, and currently oversees a variety of plans aimed at upgrading national transport infrastructure, much of which has fallen into a state of disrepair.

In particular, the government has targeted boosting road and urban transit connectivity in an effort to reduce travel times throughout the Greater Cairo area, which is home to around 20% of Egypt’s total population. Other projects are expected to have a positive impact on the country’s rail network, the ports and shipping segment, and logistics, among other areas.

COMPLICATIONS: With numerous projects currently under way, the MoT and other transport-related government bodies currently face a variety of challenges. Some of these – such as heightened security risks and the depreciation of the Egyptian pound – are directly related to the ongoing political unrest in the country, and, as such, are considered to be temporary hurdles. Other issues, however, have impeded the development of the country’s transport networks for years. The sheer number of public organisations involved in the industry is widely considered to be an obstacle to the implementation of ambitious, comprehensive projects.

“The problem is that there are many branches that exist within the ministry, and the ministry is responsible for each one of them,” Mohamed Balah, a professor of logistics at Ain Shams University, told local media in July 2013. “However, workwise they’re sometimes not related to one another, and there’s difficulty in managing the branches.” Financing new development programmes is another key challenge. As a result of the low level of public investment in infrastructure over the past three decades, Egypt’s dilapidated road and rail networks, which account for the majority of passenger and cargo movement in the country, are in need of a major overhaul, which will not come cheap.

TOP-DOWN DEVELOPMENT: Over the past few decades the government has commissioned a number of overarching transport plans, the majority of which have failed to reach the implementation stage. Since 1979 transport-focused studies have been carried out by the US-based consultancy Louis Berger, Netherlands Engineering Consultants, a number of local firms and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the latter of which has overseen a number of transport research projects in Egypt since 1993. JICA’s most recent report, known as the Misr National Transport Study (MiNTS), was published in March 2012 and upon its release was expected to serve as a comprehensive development blueprint for the country’s transport segments, though the extent to which this would be the case remained somewhat unclear.

MINTS: The study was based on interviews and other types of data collection in the road, rail, maritime and inland waterway segments, all of which are regulated by the MoT. The MiNTS draft proposal, which was based on the study, is made up of 103 individual development initiatives and is expected to cost an estimated LE320bn ($45.5bn), according to JICA. Broadly, the plan called for increased capital investment in urban transport infrastructure, particularly in the Greater Cairo and Alexandria areas, which are considered to be the country’s two key urban centres. Additionally, the plan includes a number of initiatives focused on developing transit networks to and from seven “gateway” centres – namely Borg El Arab, Damietta, Port Said, Suez, Hurghada, Safaga and Bemees – which would be positioned as key international links. These regional hubs will be linked by a network of new and upgraded road, rail and, where possible, sea and waterway networks.

The MiNTS identified a number of development corridors, which are broadly defined as heavy traffic links between two important regional or local freight or population centres. Key development corridors include the intermodal freight link between 6th of October City, which lies to the south-west of Cairo proper, and the ports at Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast, and Ain Sokhna on the Red Sea; the link between Cairo and Upper Egypt in the south; and the international link between Libya and Gaza via Mersa Matruh, the Greater Cairo area and the northern Sinai.

GREATER CAIRO: While it remains unclear whether or not the MoT will adopt the MiNTS plan as a national strategy, the ministry has moved forward with other individual projects in recent years. In mid-2012, for example, Egypt’s cabinet approved a plan to launch a new transport authority with a mandate to oversee the development of infrastructure in and around the Greater Cairo area, which is the most congested region in the country. The Transport Regulatory Authority for Greater Cairo, which was entering the procurement stage as of mid-2013, will not replace the numerous local public and private players already active in the region. Instead, it is expected to act as a coordinating agency, facilitating joint projects between entities and managing the capital’s overall transport blueprint.

PTA: Additionally, at the end of 2012 the government announced it was planning to restructure the Public Transportation Authority (PTA), which is responsible for operating the capital’s public bus and rail systems, both of which are outdated due to a lack of investment over the years. The authority, which has faced funding gaps in recent years as a result of declining revenues, is expected to be converted into a holding company and put in charge of five subsidiary companies, each of which will deal with a different segment of the region’s transport network on an independent basis. The planned transformation of the PTA is designed to give each individual operator – including, for example, the Traffic Organisation of Greater Cairo – more autonomy to make budgetary decisions. As with the MiNTS plan, it remains unclear whether or not Egypt’s current government plans to move forward with this initiative.

OTHER PROJECTS: In August 2013 Egypt’s cabinet announced that the government had approved a LE22.3bn ($3.2bn) economic stimulus plan, with the aim of boosting expenditure on a wide variety of major projects. In particular, a substantial percentage of the cash infusion will go towards building new railways, roads and bridges, extending the Cairo metro and expanding the country’s bus fleet, among other transport-related projects. Around LE750m ($106.7m) will be put towards completing the second phase of Cairo’s third underground metro line, which will run from Abbasiya to Heliopolis. Boosting metro revenue is considered to be a key goal – as of the end of 2012 an estimated 40% of passengers on metro trains did not pay ticket fees. In June 2013 the MoT announced that it planned to hire an independent security company to address this. Additionally, the ministry plans to increase the number of advertisements on display in the metro and sell subscription passes, which will be designed to allow pass holders to access public transportation systems throughout the Greater Cairo area.

Outside of the capital, the MoT has either announced or begun work on a variety of major projects. The rail segment is expected be a key beneficiary of both public and private sector investment, for example. The MoT is in the midst of an ambitious rail network expansion and upgrade project, which aims to boost both freight and passengers services alike (see analysis). Road projects currently under way include the construction or renovation of highways between the capital and Alexandria, Ismailia and Suez, among other cities. Additionally, the ministry is working to expand port capacity throughout the country and to further develop the country’s shipping and logistics capabilities, particularly at Port Said and Suez. In June 2013 the ministry said most of these developments would be carried out in conjunction with the private sector, either on a buildoperate-transfer basis or as public-private partnership schemes. Additionally, a variety of international organisations and other entities have announced plans to support transport development in Egypt in recent years.