Snarl-ups to startups: Cairo’s jams inspire technical solutions

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CAIRO: In deadlocked and heavily polluted Cairo, startups are looking for technological solutions to solve the transport problems of a growing megacity that is already struggling with over 20 million people.

With only three subway lines and overcrowded, shabby buses serving the capital, public transport has reached its limits.

“The traffic problem in Greater Cairo has resulted in very low average speeds, not exceeding 10 kilometers per hour,” said Cairo University traffic expert Osama Okail, who says the solution to the capital’s problems must be fixing public transport .

Cairo, the most populous Arab city and home to a fifth of all Egyptians, ranks 30th in the world according to TomTom, the Dutch manufacturer of car navigation systems.

The runaway growth has brought the ancient city to collapse.

The Egyptian government has embarked on an ambitious redevelopment of the city, but the main focus is on building a new administrative city some 50 kilometers east of Cairo.

In Cairo itself, several huge flyovers have been built to avoid traffic jams in densely populated suburbs, which have been criticized by some for the architectural damage in historic areas.

For medium-sized consumers, hail and delivery giant Uber and its Middle Eastern subsidiary Careem have closed the loophole of poor public transport.

But also technically savvy Egyptians are looking for their own solutions.

Five days in traffic

This includes the startup Transport for Cairo (TfC), which has started detailed mapping of the city’s routes including informal transport networks in order to provide “usable and high quality data”.

The data will be used “to improve urban mobility” to help commuters find their way around the city and reduce travel times.

“By mapping big cities and using the data for future planning, we hope to change them for the better,” said Mohamed Hegazy, co-founder of the TfC.

“We’re working with the authorities to change how the system works.”

Currently, an informal system of minibuses, motorized rickshaws, taxis and millions of private cars is clogging the city’s urban thoroughfares from bumper to bumper.

TomTom calculates that a Cairo driver wastes more than five days a year sitting still in traffic.

This has a dramatic impact on labor productivity and amounts to as much as $ 8 billion (RM 32.39 billion) a year, according to a 2014 World Bank study.

It is estimated that the traffic congestion in Cairo could cost Egypt up to 4% of its total GDP.

High pollution costs

Making travel easier is one way of getting commuters out of private cars and onto public transportation, thereby reducing road congestion.

Another startup, Ocra Wallet, is trying to digitize the estimated $ 30 million (RM 121.48 million) circulating daily as commuter-rate cash through its phone app into a contactless payment for Enable tickets.

“We are working to simplify payments for transportation,” Ocra founder Khalid Khaleel told AFP.

Ocra, which means tariff in Arabic, subsidizes ticket prices by selling advertisements to private bus companies.

“The money we make to help both users and drivers,” Khaleel said, adding that by stopping the handling of cash, the app can also help reduce coronavirus transmission.

In the meantime, the ride-sharing service Tink hopes to break into the carpooling sector with an app that creates social networks of mutual friends with the same goal.

“We’ve made carpooling more of a social gathering,” said one of Tink’s founders, Adel al-Mahrouky.

The World Bank estimates that traffic disruptions mean higher levels of harmful emissions, with air pollution costing around 1% of GDP.

For Egyptian tech experts, there is hope that online solutions can help make bigger changes.

The map manufacturer Hegazy believes that its data can put Cairo on the path to the “ultimate goal” – the decarbonization of the transport network.

“Everything has to be electric,” he said. – AFP

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