Starting from Friday the Ministry of Transport increased the fare of the underground metro based on distance.
The new fares are LE3 for the first nine stops, LE5 for up to 16 stops and LE7 for more than 16 stops. Prior to the increase, the fare was fixed at LE2 for any destination.
“The increase in the fare of the underground is both unacceptable and unaffordable,” Mohamed Abdel-Gawad, an employee in his 50s, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Abdel-Gawad, who together with his two sons rely on the underground as their main means of transportation, said his budget allocated to this item alone tripled after the new rise to LE900.
“Where is the social justice the government is talking about if someone has to put aside almost a third of his monthly income of LE3,000 for transportation alone?” Abdel-Gawad asked, adding that he can’t think of any way to cover the cost of living of his family in light of the increase.
Despite the noticeable public discontent that followed the increase, Minister of Transport Hisham Arafat said the decision was “irreversible”. “The decision was essential to finance and upgrade the infrastructure of the first line of the underground which needs LE30 billion for renovation,” Arafat said in a televised interview.
It was essential, he added, to also cover the losses of the underground. For instance, the underground authority is LE350 million in debt to the Ministry of Electricity.
“In spite of the increase, the state still subsidises the underground ticket since the actual cost of the ticket is LE0.36 for each kilometre, so it is LE16 for total stops — from Al-Marg to Helwan station — on the first line. Hence, the state subsidises the maximum fare which is LE7 by LE9,” the minister said.
The government says the fair value of the ticket is LE16.
The price of underground tickets was doubled in July 2017 from LE1 to LE2 as part of wide-ranging reforms that cut subsidies and devalued the pound, resulting in a spike in inflation.
“No one feels our suffering,” Samira, a widowed housewife who lives on her husband’s pension of LE1,500, told the Weekly.
“The cost of living has doubled in recent years. The increase of ticket prices might be affordable for some but for those with low incomes who rely heavily on the underground it is exaggerated.”
Amr Abdel-Salam Shaat, assistant minister of transport for tunnels, explained why the ministry implemented a new system for fares.
“The price of the ticket, according to the number of stops, guarantees social justice,” Shaat said. As for the plan for the first line, he said it will replace the line’s complete power grid so as to endure the extra voltage of new air-conditioned trains, a task that requires around LE30 billion.
According to a statement issued by the ministry, the decision targets improving the metro system based on commutes, achieving social justice, and making up for a deficit of up to 94 per cent in maintenance expenses during the fiscal years 2016/2017 and 2017/2018.
In an attempt to quell public dissatisfaction, Arafat said that a reduced monthly and quarterly subscription system has been introduced.
The first level includes eight stations for LE130 a month, 16 stations for LE165, 26 stations for LE190, and 37 stations for LE250 monthly.
The ministry also decided to apply discount fares for students, senior citizens and citizens with disabilities.
“Such discounts are unparalleled in any other country,” added Arafat, who said in December that a fare increase will not exceed LE5 and will be applied in the new fiscal year starting in July.
Egypt’s underground has three lines: the first runs from Al-Marg to Helwan, the second from Shubra to Giza, while the uncompleted third line goes from Ataba to Korba in Heliopolis.
Since the inauguration of the first line in 1987, the underground metro has become the most important, most affordable as well as fastest means of transport in Greater Cairo.
As a result of being operational almost all day, every day from 5.15am until 12.30am, a large segment of employees and students rely heavily on it.
According to the National Authority for Tunnels, more than 3.5 million of Greater Cairo’s 21 million residents depend on the underground metro for their daily travel.
Cairo Metro Spokesman Ahmed Abdel-Hadi called on businessmen and heads of public and private companies to obtain metro subscriptions for their employees to benefit from discounts. Media anchors also took up the call.
In response, a few charity organisations expressed their willingness to help those who cannot afford subscription fares.
President of Al-Azhar University Mohamed Al-Mahrassawi opened ticket and subscription outlets at Al-Azhar University campus to encourage its workers and students to obtain subscriptions.
In a telephone interview with DMC satellite TV channel, head of parliament’s Transportation Committee Hisham Abdel-Wahed stated that he only knew about the decision from the media, criticising the sudden implementation of the decision without any prior notice given.
“The committee has previously set the criteria for increasing the fares of the underground metro and linked the increase to improving the quality of the underground’s services but this is not the case in this increase,” Abdel-Wahed said.
Following the hike, dozens of people demonstrated in some stations on Friday and Saturday protesting against what they chanted as the “unaffordable increase of metro prices”.
Circulated videos on social media platforms showed outraged commuters expressing their anger and chanting anti-government slogans.
In response, the Interior Ministry deployed police forces in almost all underground stations and arrested 21 protesters who took part in the demonstrations.
On Tuesday, an appeals judge of the Misdemeanour Court decided to release 10 of them.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 May 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: An inevitable increase?