Cairo traf­fic poses daily sur­vival test

Dis­re­gard of rules main cause of chaos

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

CAIRO:

In an endless ca­coph­ony of car horns, Mostafa Ekram each day con­fronts the frenzy of Cairo’s traf­fic jams: Pedes­tri­ans dart­ing out into the street, swerv­ing tuk-tuks and even don­key carts. At the wheel of his SUV, in the heart of Egypt’s bustling capital, he doesn’t bat an eye­lid as he nar­rowly dodges a black tuk-tuk, a three-wheeled ve­hi­cle, driv­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion. It’s an ev­ery­day oc­cur­rence in Cairo, a sprawl­ing me­trop­o­lis of 20 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants where traf­fic laws are rarely re­spected and traf­fic jams can grind on well into the night. “I feel like a pris­oner in a car look­ing for an es­cape,” says Ekram, a young sales man­ager. “Traf­fic jams use up your en­ergy and your time.”

If a stretch of road is clear, driv­ers, of­ten with a mo­bile phone in one hand, race in the streets, com­pet­ing for speed, in the gen­eral ab­sence of traf­fic lights and pedes­trian cross­ings. Two years ago, Egyp­tian au­thor­i­ties adopted an am­bi­tious plan to in­stall cam­eras at all in­ter­sec­tions - 80 per­cent com­pleted so far - and radars on roads most prone to ac­ci­dents.

The cause of the chaos on the roads of Cairo is clear to traf­fic po­lice of­fi­cial Emad Ham­mad. “The main prob­lem is the cit­i­zens’ at­ti­tude,” he says, giv­ing the com­mon ex­am­ple of park­ing in no-park­ing ar­eas that con­trib­utes to the con­ges­tion. With com­plete dis­re­gard for other mo­torists, driv­ers will of­ten slow down to ask di­rec­tions or to greet a friend, to ex­change cig­a­rettes or money.

Pub­lic trans­port

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial figures, 3.3 mil­lion cars ply the roads of Cairo. In spite of a ring road, in­ter­twin­ing high­ways and fly­overs, the bot­tle­necks per­sist. Con­ges­tion cost Egypt around $8 bil­lion, or 3.6 per­cent of GDP, in 2011, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank, which es­ti­mates the figure will more than double by 2030. The high eco­nomic losses were cal­cu­lated on the ba­sis of de­layed de­liv­er­ies and fuel wasted in traf­fic jams.

Os­sama Okail, a univer­sity pro­fes­sor spe­cial­iz­ing in traf­fic, doubts that the mea­sures pro­posed by the au­thor­i­ties will bring an end to the jams. “The best rem­edy is high-qual­ity pub­lic trans­port... to con­vince peo­ple to use them in­stead of us­ing their cars,” Okail says. Re­gard­less of the costs, those with the means still opt to drive their own car or take a taxi rather than use pub­lic trans­port. “A bus can trans­port 50 pas­sen­gers, which would nor­mally take 40 cars to do,” says Okail.

The au­thor­i­ties also plan to ex­tend the Cairo metro, whose three ex­ist­ing lines are used by as many as 3.5 mil­lion com­muters a day. Most pub­lic buses, in con­trast to the rel­a­tively new metro, are worn out, rick­ety, un­com­fort­able and al­ways crowded.

Es­cape the jams

“If pub­lic trans­port were bet­ter ori­g­an­ised... I would have aban­doned my car,” says en­gi­neer Mo­hamed Mo­hamed. Still, “when I can, I take the sub­way”. And while wait­ing for change, Heba Es­sam, an em­ployee of a multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tion, has found an­other so­lu­tion to es­cape the traf­fic jams: she works two days a week from home. Driv­ing to work and back takes four hours. “I’m al­ready tired by the time I ar­rive at work in the morn­ing,” says the 36-year-old, who al­ways drives in fear of ac­ci­dents on Cairo’s roads. —AFP

CAIRO: A gen­eral view shows pedes­tri­ans walk­ing in be­tween cars stuck in a traf­fic jam on a high­way in the Egyp­tian capital, Cairo, on Novem­ber 7, 2016.—AFP

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