In a metropolis like Cairo where only 14% of residents own a private car, the public transportation system does not have the capacity to meet the transportation needs of the city’s millions of residents. This need is ever increasing with urban population growth and the emergence of satellite cities whose residents are strongly connected to Cairo, whether for work or social ties. Over the past few decades, public policies have been neglecting this very essential public need, leaving people at the mercy of informal – and sometimes unsafe – forms of transportation that are not monitored or regulated by the state. This brief will look at how the legislative framework can support the development of an efficient, humane, affordable and safe public transportation system in our cities.
What is the Right to Public Transportation and Urban Mobility?
Public transportation should be sustainable, accessible, and affordable. The right to urban mobility means that citizens should be able to move freely within cities and towns as well as between them. It is the right for all individuals to have access to public transportation that is safe, available in all neighborhoods, and affordable. Special attention should be given to the needs of people with disabilities to ensure they have equal access to public transportation as well.
Effects on Our Everyday Life
Public transportation in Egypt is relatively affordable by international standards. However, affordable transportation is not always reliable and not always safe. On average, 12 percent of the cost of living for an individual in Cairo is spent on transportation.1 The Metro is the most affordable, popular, and reliable transportation in Cairo, costing just 1 LE for each trip. Approximately 4 million passengers used the Cairo Metro each day in 2011. However, the crush of travelers, especially during rush hours, can be dangerous for individuals with disabilities as well as elderly people. Public transportation can also be dangerous for women as incidents of sexual harassment are not uncommon. The Cairo Metro established ‘women only’ cars on the trains to help combat this problem, but incidents of men riding the ‘women only’ cars occasionally lead to confrontations among passengers.2 The lack of security personnel at stations and deterring penalties (the current penalty for a man riding the women-only car is 15 EGP) exacerbates this problem.3 Other means of commuting in Cairo include public buses, minibuses, micro-buses, and trams. Microbuses, run by the private sector, are an affordable option to get around Cairo, but they are not always reliable, sometimes leaving travelers stranded for extended periods of time, and are unregulated by the state.4 For shorter distances in the inaccessible, narrow streets prevalent in informal areas, people use tuk tuks (rickshaws), which are unlicensed and at many times operated by teenagers.
Accessibility to transportation means accessibility to the city. Citizens need access to different areas of the city for work, shopping, entertainment, or to run errands. Politicians and policy makers in Cairo and other Egyptians cities have wrestled with the challenge of informal settlements for decades, and they have typically emphasized the housing issue, but transportation is also a challenging problem. People live in Cairo’s informal settlements not only because the housing is more affordable, but because they are closer to their jobs, public services, and social networks. The government’s desert cities floundered for so long in part because they did not make these areas accessible. Transportation to and from these areas was heavily reliant on private vehicles, yet most Cairenes do not own a car.
Accessibility to public transportation is also an issue of social justice. Many neighborhoods with lower-to-middle class residents who rely on mass transportation are not served at all by public transportation and instead rely on privately owned and operated microbuses, tuk tuks or riding in the back of pick-up trucks to the closest public transportation or microbus stop.
The right to urban mobility includes the right to walk in the city and the government has a responsibility to work with local communities to make cities friendlier to pedestrians. Walking in many parts of Cairo and other Egyptians cities is often dangerous. Many cities throughout the world invest in traffic regulations, sidewalk construction, or pedestrian-only areas around markets or shopping districts to enhance the viability of walking. In Cairo, pedestrians risk injury while walking because sidewalks are in poor condition and overcrowded with parked cars, vendors, or motorcycles. In some areas, sidewalks do not exist at all and pedestrians must walk on the street. Crossing streets in Cairo is risky as there are few crosswalks throughout the city and drivers do not yield easily to pedestrians.
Accessibility and urban mobility must also serve the needs of the 3.5 percent of Egyptians who are disabled.5 Government buildings or other public facilities often have high staircases, no elevators, and inaccessible gates. While museums, hotels, and tourists sites usually are accessible to people with disabilities, many other buildings in Cairo still have step-only access.6 The percentage of public buildings without disabled access is larger is smaller cities. Wide and safe sidewalks are available in a few, typically wealthier neighborhoods and even then scarcely, but in most neighborhoods it is extremely difficult for people with wheelchairs to use narrow, crowded streets. Buses and minibuses are usually too crowded to allow a person with a wheelchair to board and there are very few parking options specifically for disabled people close to their destination.7
To achieve the right to urban mobility and public transportation, cities need to develop a long-term plan to address the transportation needs of all citizens in a just and sustainable manner. The Egyptian government has focused too much time and investment on building road infrastructure catering to private vehicles. Egypt has just 45 vehicles per 1,000 people (as compared to 125 per 1,000 in Tunisia and 155 per 1,000 in Turkey), yet Cairo is one of the most congested cities in the world.8 The demand for public transportation services has far outstripped supply and this gap has been filled by the microbuses, tuk tuks and taxis, in part causing incredible congestion on the roads. Finally, the heavy reliance on motor vehicles for transportation has contributed to making Cairo one of the world’s most polluted cities. Public campaigns to enhance the pedestrian experience and construct bike lanes or paths in Cairo may also reduce vehicular pollution.
Egypt’s railway network is 9570 km long with 705 stations covering all governorates and a daily ridership of 1.4 million.9 Hundreds of thousands of workers from towns around Cairo depend on trains for their daily commute into the city. Despite being an essential service to 500 million people annually, the railway service is infamous for its unreliability and lack of safety. The accident known as “the train of Sa`eed (Upper Egypt)” in 2002 was the worst accident in the history of Egyptian railways and 373 deaths. Over the past two years, train-related accidents have become more common; six accidents occurred since November 2012, the deadliest were in November 2012 where a school bus collided with a train killed 69 people, including the 52 students onboard, and in January of this year 19 soldier recruits were killed and 119 were injured when the final train car they were riding on detached.
Labeling these as “accidents” should not negate the responsibility of the National Railway Authority and the Ministry of Transportation, starting from the heads of these organizations up to the engineers and inspectors of their responsibility to ensure public safety. Someone should be held responsible for making the decision to spend millions of pounds on aesthetic renovation projects instead of upgrading the much-needed infrastructure of the railway system that claims lives.
The Constitutional Right to Public Transportation and Urban Mobility in the Egypt
Like most other constitutions, the Egyptian Constitution of 2012 only recognizes “the freedom of movement” as a right (Article 42) and does not explicitly address the right to public transportation and urban mobility. Freedom of movement generally refers to the right of citizens to circulate within their country as they wish and return to it whenever they want.
During the process of constitution drafting in 2012, however, some members of the Egyptian Constituent Assembly suggested that “the right to convenient means of transportation” should be added to Article 68. This right was added:
Adequate housing and convenient means of transportation are the rights of every citizen. All citizens have the right to access clean water, healthy food and clothing. The state is committed to provide these rights to its citizens.
However, this line was removed before the final draft of the 2012 Constitution. The 2012 Constituent Assembly might have made history by including the right to public transportation in a Constitution for the first time. That, unfortunately, did not happen. Similarly, the 2014 Constitution, also, does not address the right to public transportation and urban mobility and only recognizes the freedom of movement as a right (Article 46).
Many constitutions recognize the freedom of movement as a right but none that we know of explicitly mentions the right to public transportation and urban mobility.10 Perhaps the only constitution that implicitly recognizes the right to public transportation and urban mobility is the Brazilian constitution.
In several Articles, the Constitution of Brazil addresses some elements of the right to public transportation and urban mobility. Article 227 states that:
The law shall regulate construction standards for public sites and buildings and for the manufacturing of public transportation vehicles, in order to ensure adequate access to the handicapped.
Article 244 addresses the same issue with a focus on changing the already existing public buildings, sites, and public transportation vehicles that are not well-equipped for the handicapped people, to make them more accessible to the disabled.
The Brazilian constitution not only addresses the accessibility of public transportation, but it also talks about its affordability. Article 230 states, “Those over sixty-five years of age are guaranteed free urban public transportation.”
And Article 7 states that among others, urban and rural workers have a right to a nationally unified minimum wage, capable of satisfying their basic needs, including housing, food, education, health, and transportation. The Brazilian constitution implicitly recognizes the right to accessible and affordable public transportation and is perhaps the most advanced constitution in terms of the right to public transportation and urban mobility.
The Way Forward
The right to public transportation and urban mobility is not a human right; it is a civil right.11 The speed of the urbanization process in Egypt and the rising demand for better public transportation increases the significance of affordable, accessible, and sustainable public transportation for Egyptians. In the absence of any constitutional provision of the right to public transportation, the World Charter for the Right to the City (WCRC) can be used as a reference point to strengthen this right. Article 13 of the WCRC talks in detail about the right to public transportation and urban mobility, as it states:
- Cities should guarantee for all persons the right to mobility and circulation in the city, in accordance with an urban and interurban circulation plan and through an accessible public transportation system, provided at a reasonable cost and adequate for different environmental and social needs (gender, age, capacity, etc.).
- Cities should stimulate the use of non-polluting vehicles and establish areas reserved for foot traffic, permanently or during certain times of the day.
- Cities should promote removal of architectural barriers, installation of the necessary facilities in the mobility and circulation system, and adaptation of all public or public-use buildings and work and leisure facilities to guarantee access for persons with disabilities.
Achieving these goals, however, is extremely difficult in Egypt’s political and economic circumstances. To achieve these goals requires balancing the supply and demand of transportation services while ensuring that the system is affordable, accessible, and sustainable. Affordable public transportation is not always accessible or safe, and accessible and safe transportation is not always affordable. Striking this balance, while creating a transportation system that is environmentally sustainable requires creativity and commitment. Strengthening a constitutional right to public transportation and urban mobility would commit Egypt to a transportation system that benefits society at large.
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