Egypt like other countries around the world has been making efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport and other activities and has been working on environmentally friendly ways to solve Cairo’s traffic problems. One practical solution that has recently been introduced is bicycle-sharing stations.
Cairo Governor Khaled Abdel-Aal inaugurated Egypt’s first bike-sharing station last week. The project, Cairo Bike, aims to encourage the use of bicycles as an alternative means of transportation. The project is also in line with Egypt’s preparations to host the UN Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP27) that will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh this November.
In 2018, Cairo governorate, the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), and the Swiss non-profit Drosos Foundation teamed up to provide free bicycle racks in many parts of Cairo. It was also planned to build bicycle-sharing stations at the time, allowing people to rent bicycles to go to their destinations and then leave them at another station.
The project was under the supervision of the Institute for Transport and Development Policy (ITDP) and an Egyptian and Danish private company, the latter having experience of working in 70 countries. The bike-sharing stations are now being introduced in force.
According to a source from Cairo Bike, there will be a network of stations with bikes for public use that can be activated by a mobile application for LE1 per hour or LE8 per day. They can also be paid via a pre-paid card.
The project will be implemented in areas like Downtown, Garden City, and Zamalek. The first phase will rent 500 bicycles and will be monitored by GPS. There will be 45 bike stations near metro stations and public-transportation lines. The stations will feature lighting and surveillance cameras powered with solar energy.
The Cairo Bike experimental phase started on 18 June in five stations in Cairo for the purposes of consultation. The first phase will be launched in August, in which 250 bikes will operate from 26 stations. This will be followed by the second phase in mid-September that will also feature 250 bikes being operated to make a total of 500.
The system operates by placing bikes in stations across the capital. A cyclist can take a bike from one station and then leave it at another when he has finished his journey. The public can download the application from the Cairo Bike website. The application will direct them to the nearest bike station, where they can unlock a bike with a smartphone.
Bicycle lanes, part of a programme called Sekketak Khadra, an Egyptian proverb wishing people a path free of trouble, are also in the works. The programme aims to promote cycling more generally in Egypt, to introduce bicycles into daily lives, and to encourage healthier and more environmentally aware lifestyles.
The idea of bicycle-sharing has proved to be successful in many cities around the world, including in Europe and South America where there is a bicycle-sharing system in Mexico City. In Cairo, some 100 bicycle racks accommodating up to 200 bikes have already been installed in Heliopolis and Downtown to promote cycling. The launch event took place in May 2018 in Heliopolis, where the first bicycle rack was showcased followed by a cycling tour.
The second phase will include a 15 km bike lane in Downtown Cairo that covers the whole Downtown area. Some streets in Cairo have also been refurbished by the government with bike-parking spaces and lanes in the Downtown area and in the district of Heliopolis.
The government has also been developing strategies to encourage people to use bicycles more instead of vehicles. It launched an initiative in 2019 entitled “A bike for every citizen”, in which the Ministry of Youth and Sports distributed about 100,000 bikes in the first phase of the initiative and pledged to distribute more to university students in its next phase.
Activists are also exerting efforts to gain more room for bike lanes in the streets, among them initiatives like Tabdeel (Peddling), “Star bike”, “Go bike”, “She can ride,” and “Be a biker”, to name a few.
Another initiative encouraging cycling in the streets is Pdal (Pedal). This aims at spreading a culture of cycling and the use of bikes through organising events for those wishing to cycle, publishing information about the benefits of using bicycles, and helping those who want to have a bike to access information.
It also provides bike-rental services.
Mahmoud Shaalan, founder of Pdal, said the initiative “works on spreading the habit of cycling. It started in 2015 with the aim of spreading the culture of cycling and convincing people to use bikes instead of other means of transportation.”
“We do this through organising marathons or cycling events in Cairo on Fridays in the early morning in places like Zamalek, Maadi, Downtown, and Manial,” he said. When people see people using bikes in such events, they start to consider the bike as an eco-friendly alternative to regular transportation, he added.
The group has a small number of participants, and this has increased with time. Now the average number of participants in any one event ranges from 60 to 100, Shaalan said.
He believes that the idea of spreading the habit of cycling is not about quantity but quality. “We usually don’t have more than that because we want to send the message that we are using part of the street, not all of it. We want to spread the concept of cycling and with it the positive use of the street like using one lane and staying in it,” he said.
“We don’t want to cause a traffic jam and give people a negative image of cycling.” The group also has supervisors who facilitate the events and supervise them for the same purpose.
They have organised about 350 events so far and post information about them as well as information about cycling on the Web. “We try to cover as many places in Cairo as possible,” Shaalan added.
“I am happy to see that there are now about 20 other initiatives working with the same aim of spreading the culture of cycling in Egypt,” he said, adding that in the past the number was limited, but after the initiatives started to raise awareness they increased and with it the culture of cycling.
“I am also happy to see female cyclists because this means that these initiatives have succeeded and that people now use a bike as a main means of transport, not just to go to nearby places or as a recreational activity. The culture has spread and become a lifestyle for some people,” he added.
Bike-sharing stations have also been long awaited by many cyclists. “I think bike-sharing stations are a good solution for the increasing air pollution in Egypt. I would certainly use such stations provided that they have special bike lanes as well so it is safe for cyclists on the road,” said Riham Khaled, a Cairo resident whose favourite hobby is cycling. She dreams of using her bike as a regular form of city transportation.
“Cairo Bike is a great national project that we cyclists have been waiting for. The idea of bike-sharing makes it easier for people to use bikes. It is also practical since there are areas people cannot reach using cars, and the project makes it easier for them to reach them using bikes, especially in crowded places,” Shaalan said.
Many of the bike-sharing stations also have parking spaces for cars, which makes it easier for motorists to switch to bikes. “The fact that people don’t have to return the bikes to the same station but can return them to the nearest point to their destination is also very practical. The low rental cost per hour will certainly encourage more people to use bikes and help to spread the culture of cycling in Egypt,” he said.
“I would like to see more bike lanes for the bikes like the ones abroad, making it safer for cyclists on the streets. We need laws to protect cyclists and give them rights on the streets because some car drivers do not think cyclists have the same right to use the roads that they have.”
“New laws would prevent drivers from bothering cyclists on the road and spread the culture of cycling further,” Shaalan concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.