Reem, a secretary who works in downtown Cairo, has long been waiting for the extension of line three of Cairo’s underground to open. Now, with the addition of three more stations — Haroun Al-Rashid, Alf Maskan and Shams Club — her daily commute from her home in east Cairo takes half the time.
The trip from Ataba, where passengers can switch lines, to Shams Club station takes just 26 minutes rather than the two hours the same journey can take by road during rush hours. And passengers travel in comfort.
All stations and trains are air-conditioned. There are elevators for those who cannot manage the stairs or escalators and electronic display screens showing train arrival times.
The three newly opened stations are part of the fourth phase of line three of the metro system.
The Egyptian Company for Metro Management and Operation Spokesperson Ahmed Abdel-Hadi announced this week that 4.2 million people now use the metro daily: two million use line one; 1.5 million use line two; and 700,000 line three.
The lower figures for the third line translate into a qualitatively different experience. Carriages are rarely, if ever, crowded. Everything is spotlessly clean and attention has clearly been paid to the decorative details of the stations.
“I’m thankful the three new stations have opened before the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations begins. They will allow fans to easily travel to watch matches,” says Abu Ahmed who has already bought tickets for one of the games.
The Ministry of Transport has issued a statement saying the new stations will help facilitate travel for fans attending the African games in stadiums hosting matches.
The only fly in the ointment is the increase in fares on line three. Fares on the first two lines remain the same.
“Thankfully the rise only applies to the new line, for now at least,” says Um Hanan, a housewife whose children use the metro to go to school. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed it stays that way.”
On Friday the Ministry of Transport announced that fares on the third line had been increased from LE3, LE5 and LE7 to LE 5, LE7 and LE10, respectively, depending on the number of stations travelled.
Up to nine stops on the third metro line cost LE5, up to 16 stops — necessitating a change at Ataba — cost LE7, and 16 stops or more LE10.
Fares based on distance travelled — LE3 for the first nine stops, LE5 for up to 16 stops and LE7 for more than 16 stops — were only introduced last year. Prior to that, fares were fixed at LE2 for any destination on the system.
“Early last year I paid LE12 for return trips for my two children and myself per day. Today I pay LE12 for my children and LE10 for myself. The cost has almost doubled,” complains Ali Abdel-Azim, a middle-aged government employee.
The Ministry of Transport insists increases are necessary to finance and upgrade infrastructure. The actual cost of a ticket is LE0.36 for each kilometre travelled, meaning even with the increased price of tickets journeys are still being subsidised.
Cairo has three metro lines. The first runs from Al-Marg to Helwan, the second from Shubra to Giza, while the as-yet incomplete third line now runs from Ataba to Shams Club in Heliopolis.
The fourth phase of line three, scheduled to open in April 2020, will continue under Al-Nozha Street to the bus station before it emerges above ground and continues, via a bridge, to Hisham Barakat Square, Qobba, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, and Heikstep stations.
An additional extension will continue to the 10 Ramadan bus station where it will link with the planned train line to the New Administrative Capital, while a separate branch will pass under Higaz Square, ending at Terminal 3 of Cairo International Airport.
Line three is the first to connect east Cairo to the west. It intersects with lines one and two and when all phases are complete will consist of 39 stations.
“The metro is a national project that will link Giza and Greater Cairo to the New Administrative Capital, a transport network that will help move around easily and quickly.
We should look forward to it being completed,” says Mahmoud, a labourer who works mainly in the new capital.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 June, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: A painless commute