New "high-quality" buses similar to those seen on the streets of Europe have been put into service in Cairo in a bid to offer a possible alternative for private car owners to help ease increasing congestion in the traffic-choked capital, a transport official said.
Ten air-conditioned mini buses were put into service last week and 30 more will be operational on 1 August, the head of Egypt's General Transport Authority Rizk Ali told Ahram Online on Wednesday.
The 40 vehicles, which are part of private and state projects to provide hundreds of these buses in the next few years, will run across four lines serving areas including Shubra, Cairo International Airport, downtown's Ramses, Heliopolis and Obour City.
Egypt’s public buses are notorious for being poorly maintained and overcrowded, and are rarely used by well-off Egyptians. This has resulted in an increasing number of private cars on the streets, which causes congestion throughout the day in a capital of some 22.8 million people.
There are 2.3 million licensed private cars in Cairo, according to data released last month by state-run statistics body CAPMAS.
The new buses are fitted with a number of high-tech features including free Wi-Fi, USB sockets for passengers to charge their phones, CCTV cameras and digital displays showing upcoming stops, and entertainment screens.
More importantly, the buses will offer the use of pre-paid smart cards.
Tickets for the new 26-seater buses cost EGP 5, as opposed to the EGP 1 and EGP 2 tickets for regular public buses.
The Transport Authority will merely oversee operation of the vehicles, which are owned by the Egyptian Advanced Company for Public Transportation; 70 percent of which is owned by Emirates National Group.
The new buses are part of the company's EGP 1 billion plan to bring a total of 180 buses and mini buses into operation along 18 lines across Cairo in its first phase, the company said in a statement reported by local media on Wednesday.
The vehicles will be put into service gradually till June 2018, but Ali believes the plan could take longer, given a delay in running the first batch of 10 buses.
"We will supervise everything about the service, the Wi-Fi connection, the air-conditioning, etc. It would not be acceptable for passengers to pay EGP 5 and after one month find all these functions out of service," Ali told Ahram Online.
The authority plans to impose a strict system of regular maintenance on the vehicles, where a bus with a non-functioning feature will be suspended, Ali added.
In addition to the 180 privately owned buses, Ali said the authority plans to bring into operation over 160 more European-style buses with the same features.
These include 13 double-deckers that will go into operation in Cairo before the end of the year and 150 mini buses to be brought into service gradually over the first half of 2018.
The authority is also considering financial offers for its plan to run 300 natural gas vehicles in the capital.
"We aim to offer services that will eventually reduce energy consumption, air pollution, congestion and the impact on global warming."
Last month, the government hiked fuel prices by up to 50 percent, a sharp rise and further obstacle for many Egyptians struggling with soaring living costs.