According to Sims and Abu Lughoud (2010) “in the 1970s, when Cairo was a third of what it is today…government modes of transport accommodated for 86% of all vehicular trips.” However, with the increasing demand for transportation due to urbanization and the emergence of satellite cities, the public transport system could not be expanded at the same rate.This increase in demand presents policy makers with ever-growing challenges and translates into various transportation problems, most notably chronic congestion, delays and traffic-related accidents. More than a nuisance, those problems have tangible negative environmental, economic and social impacts. Acknowledging the right to adequate public transportation and urban mobility, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), Article 11.1 states that “by 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons” (United Nations, 2015). To achieve this, governments and policy-makers around the world are pursuing strategies to increase public transit networks, improve the management of urban mobility and public transit provision, and enhance public engagement and accessibility. As the population continues to grow, and those problems exacerbate, we believe that now is the best time to address the issues of urban mobility.
Egypt Urban Futures seminar series is a joint initiative by the CEDEJ (Center for Economic, Legal and Social Studies), UN-HABITAT and GIZ (Participatory Development Programme in Urban Areas – PDP) aimed at creating an open platform for the exchange of knowledge, experiences and best practices related to Egypt’s urban development challenges. The fourth seminar session, which took place on May 29th, 2016 at the French Institute, focused on the issue of urban mobility in light of the rapid urbanisation and high population growth Egypt is currently experiencing.
The seminar hosted speakers from the government, international development agencies, civil society, the private sector, and academics who addressed the issue from different scales, perspectives and approaches. The seminar started with a discussion on policy-making for urban mobility. In his presentation Dr. Ashraf El Abd, Chief Programme Officer at Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) elaborated on the findings of the Cairo Regional Area Transportation Study (CREATS) conducted by JICA in 2001/2002. He highlighted the implementation gap where many plans and projects never materialize due to lengthy authorization processes, lacking coordination efforts, insufficient budgets, flaws in the donor approach and other reasons. To solve those issues, he suggested institutional reform and a different approach to public sector management which leaves room for more inclusive planning and puts more weight on monitoring and evaluation processes. He concluded that our focus should shift from enabling “vehicle mobility” to “people mobility” with stronger attention to user oriented public transportation systems with better traffic demand management. Additionally, he highlighted the pressing need for integrated solutions that are more than constructing more roads.
Similar conclusions were reached by Salma Mousallem, Programme Officer at UN-Habitat. In her presentation she focused on the links between urban planning, land use patterns and the demand for transportation. She suggested that urban sprawl is made possible by investments in roads which result in transport-oriented mobility and informal modes of transit. Not only do they contribute to congestion but the longer travel times increase the ecological footprint of cities and negatively impact the environment. She advocated for a paradigm change, which favours compactness over urban sprawl, and integration over segregation. She also called for the introduction of technologies relevant for countries in the Global South, such as the Bus Rapid Transit systems (BRT) as they are fast to implement and cost-effective. Additionally, she stressed the need for streamlining urban institutions and governance frameworks.
The way transportation policies and priorities shifted over time was presented by Laila Nciri, Researcher at CEDEJ, who provided the audience with a comparative view of the histories and development of the metro system in Cairo and in Paris.
Moving to an assessment of the current situation and activities in the transportation sector, Eng. Samy Abu Zeid, Head of Infrastructure at the General Organisation of Physical Planning, presented the government’s actions and views. He highlighted Cairo’s mobility woes, such as the chronic congestion, high traffic-related accident rates, tariffs and subsidies, as well as institutional weaknesses. He then presented the strategy for urban mobility in the Greater Cairo Region (GCR) and the government’s priorities in the sector. He stressed the importance of actually implementing the strategies and activating the proposed projects. Additionally, he highlighted planned transportation infrastructure within the new administrative capital and public transportation connecting it to the GCR.1 Another government representative, Eng. Khaled Farouq, Head of the Greater Cairo Transport Regulatory Authority (GCTRA), introduced the work of his organization which is tasked with the planning, monitoring, licensing and the setting of tariffs and operational standards. GCTRA can be considered an example of strategies not fully realized, as it has not assumed its full responsibilities yet, despite being established by a Presidential Decree in 2010.
In addition to governmental efforts, international organisations are active in implementing projects in the transportation sector. Ahmed Badr from the French Development Agency (AFD) explained that the agency developed plans for different projects based on the results of a study conducted on urban transportation in Alexandria by the firm Egis from 2013-2016. The Raml Tram Modernization Project was selected for implementation by the Ministry of Transport and is expected to cost 300 million Euros.
Another example is the Sustainable Transport for Egypt (STP) project, which is carried out by the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, in coordination with the UNDP. Dr. Ahmed Anwar, Project Technical Officer at STP, explained that the goal of the project is to curb the growth of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. This is to be achieved through introducing high quality integrated public transport services, growing the share of non-motorized modes of transport, introducing a system for traffic management, improving energy efficiency of industrial transport, and strengthening the institutional capacity to promote sustainable transport sector development. Currently, the project has completed three bus lines connecting Cairo with the satellite cities of 6th of October and al-Shaykh Zāyid. On the governorate level, bike lanes and upgraded sidewalks have been piloted in al-Fayyūm and al-Munūfiyya to encourage the use of non-motorized transport.
Speakers looked at different scales and allowed us to have a comparative perspective. Ahmed El-Dorghamy focused his presentation on the hyperlocal level and presented his PhD research concerned with children’s mobility in ‘Izbit Al-Haggāna – one of the most populated informal areas in the GCR.
Lastly, the seminar presented a number of innovative approaches to tackle urban mobility issues in Egypt. Anthony Khoury, General Manager of Uber-Egypt, highlighted how technological advancements are offering new possibilities to increase accessibility and contribute to easing congestions, particularly a new car pooling service Uber will launch soon, UberPool. In addition, Transport for Cairo, a local initiative, aims to map all formal and informal modes of public transportation to fill a much needed information gap that will make it easier for Cairenes to navigate the city’s complex public transportation modes. As an alternative to motorized transport, the Cairo Bicycle Coalition’s talk aimed to encourage people to bike more; and presented their plan to create a smartphone application catered to the needs of bikers. Lastly, Amena El Saie from Helm Foundation stressed the need that accessibility is a right that has to be granted to the disabled as much as to able-bodied individuals, and that any urban or transportation plans must account for all segments of society.
A common theme could be found throughout the seminar; the majority of speakers stressed the importance of shifting away from the supply-side oriented approach of building additional road space to tackle mobility problems, which has been proven to be unsuccessful in Egypt and abroad. It is time to put focus on the needs of the demand side, the residents. To understand those needs and to monitor our progress, it is important to produce reliable and timely data and studies on the sector and to link it to broader demographic and socio-economic trends.
While the seminar shed a light on an important but often overlooked dimension of transportation, the mobility and accessibility of the disabled, other dimensions could have been further discussed. As has been rightfully pointed out by Dr. Dina Shehayeb in her concluding remarks, dimensions such as gender or age should play an important role in the design and planning of safe, accessible and sustainable transportation infrastructure and systems. Moreover, it is very important to analyze the socio-economic impacts new and alternative modes of transportation have on the existing stakeholders in the transportation sector.
Many speakers have noted the need to expand the public transit network; in 2001 the metro accounted for 17% of motorized transport even though only one and a half lines were running, and in 2000 more than 36% of trips were made on foot, while private vehicles (including taxis) accounted for only 14% of all motorized and non-motorized trips (Sims and Abu-Lughod,2010). This clearly illustrates the high demand on public transit networks and the urgent need to expand them. As Salma Mousallem put it, we need to adopt an avoid/reduce-shift-improve strategy where we reduce trip length and the need to travel through integrated land-use planning and transport demand management, shift to non-motorised transport and public transport, and improve energy efficiency and optimise road infrastructure.
The seminar voiced similar recommendations to those stated in the World Bank’s 2014 Cairo Traffic Congestion Study The study highlighted four main recommendations: the importance of investing in mass transit networks rather than urban roads; focusing on traffic management solutions such as implementing corridor management schemes; revising the prices to reflect the true cost of using public space through for example the introduction of street-parking charges; and lastly, strengthening the capacity of GCTRA, as it is important to have one organization take on the responsibility to ensure proper and effective actions are undertaken.
Lastly but most importantly, as a voice from the audience pointed out, policy-makers and planners need to develop a viable vision, which sets concrete priorities for Cairo’s transportation sector which does not blindly replicate the mistakes of the past but instead moves in the right direction to realize the people’s right to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport.
Sims, D. and Abu-Lughod, J. (2010). Understanding Cairo. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press. Sutton, K. and Fahmi, W. (2001). Cairo’s urban growth and strategic master plans in the light of Egypt’s 1996 population census results. Cities, 18(3), pp.135-149.
United Nations.(2015). “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,”A/RES/70/1. LINK.
Featured Photo by Heba Mannoun, used with permission.
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