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Fare hike in Cairo metro adds to economic woes of grassroots

Apr 02 2017 | 03:57 pm

Cairo: Egypt has doubled Cairo metro fare amid financial difficulties and nearly 3.5 million commuters relying on Cairo’s metro everyday fumed by the move, as they already suffered sharp rise in living costs.

People shop at Al Ataba, a popular market in downtown Cairo, Egypt March 9, 2017. Picture taken March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

The new ticket price started from March 24, rising from one Egyptian pound (5.5 U.S. cents) to two pounds (11 cents), a move angered the commuters who deem the metro as the cheapest and fastest means of transportation.

“Egypt needs economic reforms, but these reforms aren’t supposed to harm the poor people,” said Mohamed Abdul Rahamn, a 32-year-old technician leaving a metro station on Talaat Harb Street in central Cairo.

He emphasized that metro tickets were “the cheapest for the poor and the limited-income people to get them from point A to point B,” saying that he is worried about another distance-based fare increase.

The move came four months after Egypt floated its currency amid economic reforms, and led the currency to lose half of its value and prices to soar.

Food and drinks prices increased nearly 40 percent since the flotation, with meat and chicken prices even increased as much as 50 percent.

One third of Egyptian population lives on 1.9 U.S. dollars or less per day, according to a report by the government statistics agency published in 2016.

“There is no room for belt-tightening. A large percentage of my income has been spent on purchasing food,” said Um Gomaa, a 43-year-old lady who works as a typist.

“I earn 1,200 pounds (66 dollars) with two kids, and I have to pay 300 pounds (16.5 dollars) for renting an apartment in a remote area,” she said, “the metro is the cheapest and easiest transportation means for me and my family.”

The state-run Egyptian Company for Metro Management and Operation has not paid its electricity and water bills for 18 months, raising the debts to 300 million pounds (16.5 million dollars), the Ahram newspaper reported on its website.

Utilities companies threatened to cut their services, and the German company maintaining the metro’s elevators and escalators said its contract with the metro will not be renewed.

According to a study released by the Transportation Ministry in August, the tickets had been approximately subsidized at a rate of 96 percent by the government before the fare increase.

The unsubsidized price of a ticket should be 25 pounds (1.3 dollars), the study stated. The low ticket price incurs losses of 22 million pounds (one million dollars) monthly and is having a negative impact on maintenance and operations.

Transport Minister Hisahm Arafat said the metro losses are estimated at 500 million pounds (27.5 million dollars) which put the network at risk of shutting down.

Meanwhile, some see the doubling of ticket fares as a painful but necessary step.

“The services have already been suffering for months. The travel time has doubled due to prolonged intervals between trains and occasional breakdowns,” said Mustafa Munir, a 45-year-old accountant.

Munir said two pounds is not much for metro as a cost efficient transportation solution, because “one more pound could be the hope for improvement.”

However, economic expert Rashad Abdo said that “the price hike is not the only solution,” warning that administrative failure is one of the main reasons the metro company is suffering and the whole administrative system should be updated.

“The company should find creative and sound solutions. Merely thinking about increasing prices means lack of future vision,” he added.

Meanwhile, he asserted that halting the metro is not an option because it will paralyze the capital, noting the country should reach a compromise between lifting the subsidy, which is a burden on its budget, and considering the hard economic conditions of citizens. Xinhua


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