BY: MOHAMMED ARAFA
The Cairo Governorate announced the start of a new public transportation project, smart buses, last year and these took to the streets for the first time in mid-January.
Mwasalat Misr (Transportation Egypt) in collaboration with the Public Transport Authority launched six lines as an initial phase of this project in a bid to upgrade existing bus service.
The Caravan dispatched Communication Media Arts junior Mohammed Arafa (and his friend) to investigate.
My friend and I decided to try this new service to go home from AUC last Wednesday. It was shocking and entertaining, all in one.
Honestly, what made us decide to try the bus was that we found it parked just in front of Gate Four, where it starts its route back to Tahrir.
As we climbed aboard, the driver said in a warning tone: “The ticket is for 10 pounds.”
The driver printed the tickets using a device mounted beside his seat. He wore a pale blue shirt with a badge carrying the logo of Mwasalat Misr.
The first thing I asked after taking our seats was about the Wi-Fi. I wanted to make good use of every penny of my ten pounds. The driver told me the Wi-Fi worked with no password, but he that needed to inform the company that it was not working well.
The bus is similar to the normal public buses in material and color of seats, floor and handles, but it is wider than the normal buses and the seating design is different. One stark difference is that there is a designated seating area for people with special needs.
For the first time in Egypt
The buses are also designed to take into consideration elderly or people with children; the whole bus is adjustable through a system of hydraulics to ’tilt’ down to roadside height in order to help people with wheelchairs to get on board.
As for our seats, I noticed that each has its own button that passengers can press when they want to disembark; the bus driver gets notified and he stops immediately.
A USB outlet is set next to each seat for passengers to charge their phones.
The feel of the bus was very different from what most Egyptians are used to daily.
First off, the bus had huge windows which gave me the feeling I was on a tourist vehicle touring the sites of Cairo.
Then there’s the central air conditioning system, which not only gives one the ability to breathe clean air but will come very handy as the temperatures begin to rise.
For the first time in my life I see Egyptians relaxed on a public transportation bus. Even when it happened that I took a largely normal bus with people who technically had nothing to bother them, they looked unhappy and not enjoying this part of their lives.
However, this time I felt like the same people I meet in public transportation are now happy or at least enjoying their bus ride. It touched me that offering Egyptians a simple service that simply humanizes them made a big difference to their attitude.
But the real unexpected virtue of this new bus was to be found in the number of times the driver stopped to pick up passengers.
Each time he opened the bus door he would first inform people about the ticket price. “The reactions of people after hearing this were priceless,” said my friend Hisham Abd Elrazek.
Apparently, most people still don’t know about this new service, so they think it is just a new public bus for the same price. A public bus that takes the same route as this bus charges EGP 2.5 pounds – just 25 percent of what we were paying.
Some people got on the bus, heard the price, made a snide, sarcastic comment and embarrassingly got off again.
Seeing this happening to many people, some of whom were senior citizens who barely could go up the stairs, was heartbreaking.
As the bus begins to close its doors, the people who got off the bus after hearing the extravagant price stare at us grudgingly through the huge bus windows.
They’re probably muttering “So, you are the fools who paid quadruple the price” or “I envy you, privileged citizens.”
One brazen passenger boarded the bus after he knew the ticket price. Then the driver called him to pay the ticket, but he kept on negotiating not to pay because his final stop was less than a kilometer away. He had a point, it was a really short distance to pay the full fare.
If he took a taxi instead he would have paid less. Actually, this guy is smart, he wanted to explore this new bus without paying.