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What improvements could require a 300% hike in metro fares?
 
 
Courtesy: urbanrail.net
 

Cairo’s metro is spared the usual congestion on Saturday mornings. The pace is slower and people are willing to talk about the future of the service that is a vital part of Cairo’s public transportation network.

That future looks more expensive for many now, as the Transportation Ministry has made public overtures toward a new variable fare that would roll out in May and be triple the current fare at its maximum, promising improvements in services alongside the price hike.

Passengers climbing out of the Dokki Station onto the normally hectic Tahrir Street complained to Mada Masr about the tentative plan, saying that they are unconvinced that improvements to the service used to justify the hike are worth the high price.

“I doubt the trains will arrive every three minutes like they did back in the 90s. So what improvements are they talking about?” a metro passenger asks. “Down there, we still queue to get tickets. What improvements?” he adds indignantly.

Transportation Minister Hesham Arafat addressed the news in an appearance on Amr Adib’s “Kol Youm” (Every Day) on January 10. On the show, Arafat said the May price hike, which would see ride fares range between LE3 and LE6 depending on distance traveled, is still under consideration and a final decision has yet to be made.

In December, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated that the metro ticket price could not remain the same as the current fare is not sufficient to fund the expansion of the metro grid. “It cannot be done with the current fare, not even with a 200 or 300 percent increase. This is the blunt truth of it,” he said.

Standing by the entrance to the Dokki Station on Cairo Metro Line 2, lawyer Mohamed al-Sheikh, 33, argues that the price hike is too steep, however, and that it is coming too soon. “The government should stabilize ticket prices. To announce a further increase less than a year after the last increase is just not acceptable,” Sheikh says.

The government first doubled metro fares in March, applying a LE2 fare to over 3 million passengers who use the metro each day.

The government claimed at the time that the price hike was intended to cover the metro service’s increasing operating costs and maximize revenue to allow for future development and improvements.

In a press statement made in March, the Transportation Ministry said that financial losses were the driving factor behind the fare increase. According to the ministry, the metro has accrued annual losses of LE200 million since 2010, while accumulated debt has reached LE500 million.

The Egyptian Company for Metro Management and Operation (ECMMO) is expected to have doubled its fare revenue since the first increase was implemented almost 10 months ago, but it has not released any official data on losses or profits since then. When asked about the profits from this period, the company spokesperson told Mada Masr that “profits do not concern the public.”

Sheikh is interested in the type of improvements the government intends to introduce, aside from the expansion of new lines. He also points out that some developments – such as the installment of an air conditioning system in metro cars – have become necessary, should be implemented automatically and do not justify a hike of this magnitude.

Arabic language teacher Doaa Mostafa, 27, believes people won’t care about improvements if the fares are too high. “What can we possibly get out of the increase? Are we going to be able to sit down rather than stand in the cars? Impossible,” she says.

In a statement released last month, the Transportation Ministry stated that metro fares would be grouped into price brackets depending on the number of stations traveled. Tickets would cost LE2 for a journey across nine stations, with passengers paying an additional LE1 for each extra stop, reaching a maximum of LE6 for passengers who travel the entire length of a line.

The transportation minister’s reassurance that few people need to travel across an entire metro line – and therefore pay LE6 – did not sit well with Mostafa. Many people, she says, are forced to travel long distances for their jobs. “What is a passenger to do, ask their boss to relocate their workplace so they can afford the ticket?”

Khaled agrees with Mostafa’s sentiment that it is not uncommon for people to ride the length of the metro. The 47-year-old accountant, his wife and two children travel all the way from the Mounib Station (southeast of Greater Cairo) to Shubra (north of the city) every week to visit his parents.

Khaled’s four-person family gets on the metro at the Mounib Station, the southernmost station of Cairo Metro Line 2 and gets off at the Shubra station. He calculates that the round trip would cost LE50, if the new pricing plan is implemented.

“Even if it’s to cover improvement costs, fare increases should be more reasonable. A sensible increase would be 10, 20 or at most 25 percent, making the ride fare LE2.5. But a 300 percent increase is just cheeky,” he says. Khaled believes that a government service such as the metro should not be for profit. As it is a necessity for large segments of the population and helps curb the price gouging people face when using privately owned means of transportation, such as microbuses, Khaled says it is imperative that the metro service is subsidized, just like bread.

“If metro fares increase, microbus fares will. Microbus drivers will use metro fare increases to justify hikes of LE3.5 or even LE4,” Khaled says. Mostafa and Sheikh agree with Khaled’s sentiment, as both predict that an increase in metro fares will certainly be reflected by increases in fares of other means of transportation.

Ali Fadaly, the chairman of the ECMMO, told Ahram Gate last year that the company is not seeking to make profits, but “working toward ending the facility’s dependence on the state budget to cover improvements and maintenance and toward providing a better service for Egyptians, especially given that over 3 million passengers use the metro every day.”

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Osman El Sharnoubi