Urban solutions: Easing congestion through public transport projects

Cairo’s traffic problems are notorious, and while they are a useful way to spark a conversation with locals, they have a major impact on the economy. Due to the costs associated with congestion and time wasted on the road, Egypt’s traffic jams are estimated to reduce GDP growth by 4 percentage points, according to a 2010 World Bank study. However, efforts are being made to tackle the issue. In addition to education campaigns and the staging of traffic police at bottlenecks, the government is investing large sums in urban transport.

Line By Line

The Cairo Metro was the first subway in Africa. Line 1 was completed in 1987, and runs from El Marg to Helwan. Line 2 became operational in 1996 and runs from Shobra El Kheima to El Mounib. Line 3 goes from Ataba to Al Ahram and is still being built, with the second phase begun in 2009 and completed in 2014. Phase 3, which is under construction, will take the line in two directions, towards both Cairo University and Rod El Farag. Work on Phase 4, which will run to Cairo Airport, commenced in early 2015.

In November 2014 LE9bn ($1.2bn) was allocated for the extension of Line 3 to the airport, with a three-year timeframe given for completion of the project. Another LE7bn ($954.1m) was allocated for the purchase of new trains for the line.

More lines are in the works. Line 4 will run from the Haram District to the New Cairo District, and will be funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency ($1.2bn) and the Egyptian government ($2.4bn). Discussions have also begun with the French government about the possible funding of both a fifth and sixth line.

Ahead Of Schedule

Cairo will have six metro lines by 2020, with daily subway commuter traffic forecast to jump from the current 4m to 16m, according to Ismail El Nagdy, chairman of the National Authority for Tunnels. As with the Suez Canal and the National Road Project, the pace of building will be exceptionally fast. The original plan had been for six lines by 2035, but, prompted by population density and the increase in traffic, the government accelerated the scheme.

While funding should be available for construction, the operating budget of the metro lines could be a challenge. The system was breaking even in the late 1980s, but is currently being heavily subsidised by the government. Tickets are LE1 ($0.14), while the cost of running the metro is between LE8 ($1.10) and LE25 ($3.41) per ride. The system is now losing around LE180m ($24.5m) a year, and it will be difficult to raise ticket prices. When reports suggesting a fare increase emerged in late 2014 the backlash was severe. Other solutions have been offered, such as tiered pricing for distance travelled rather than a fixed rate. As of late 2015 ticket prices had not been raised.

Other plans are in the pipeline. Canada’s Bombardier and Egypt’s Orascom Construction and Arab Contractors are working together to create Cairo’s first monorail, to be operational by 2018. It will run from 6th of October City to Sheikh Zayed, Giza and Cairo, have 17 stations and cost $1.5bn.


Cairo is not the only city with congestion problems. Egypt’s second-largest urban agglomeration, Alexandria, also faces rush hour traffic jams which can have a particularly harmful impact on the wide range of industrial manufacturers based in the city. As a result, the government is looking to improve public transport options.

Alexandria has had a tramway since 1860, and the system has a total of 38 stations. A plan had been in the works for a 42-km subway, and there had also been discussion of a monorail. However, in early 2015 it was reported that the tram would be developed and electrified instead, with the French Development Agency funding the upgrade.