Even though the Egyptian capital is home to many cyclers from different social classes, the city still lacks the infrastructure to guarantee their safety as they navigate between reckless drivers. There are more than 20,000 users of Egyptian online cycling groups who cycle for recreational purposes. Among lower-income communities, cycling is a tool for work-related commutes and errands. Almost every bakery and local grocery store has at least one delivery boy with a bicycle. Just last week, Cairo’s governor signed a Memorandum of Understanding as part of the framework of the bike sharing project, “Bicicletta” (literally: Bicycle) funded and managed by UN-Habitat Egypt and the Zurich-based DROSOS Foundation.
DROSOS pumped around $1.43 million into Bicicletta with the aim of reducing barriers and increasing opportunities by providing Cairenes, especially the youth, with an alternative mobility option through bike sharing. Although cycling has always existed as an alternative for those wanting to get around the Egyptian capital, it is not always practical for those traveling long distances due to the lack of infrastructure in the city. Bicicletta might add an incentive and pave the way for a safer cycling environment for both recreational and working cyclists. The strategy is ongoing since June 2016, with plans to inaugurate it by May 2019.
However, UN-Habitat Egypt has been thinking and brainstorming how this project can come to light since 2015. “It took us quite a while to mobilize the resources and find a donor, which is DROSOS and once we found the donor, they key part for us was finding the right government partner,” UN-Habitat Program Officer Salma Mousallem, the mastermind behind Bicicletta, tells progrss.
According to Moussallem, successful bikesharing projects around the world have had a strong mayor or governor as key partners. “We started the conversation with Cairo’s governor maybe more than eight months ago and it took time until we reached the commitment of the bike lanes because we wanted the bike lanes and sharing to go hand in hand,” Mousallem elaborates.
The project’s main implementing partner is the Cairo Governorate, since the project will kickstart around the city’s downtown with bike-sharing stations deployed at a series of points connecting and providing easy access to Cairo’s underground metro and bus stations. In the thumping heart of Cairo, Bicicletta will pilot with 300 bicycles deployed at stations close to the bike lanes, which will be painted in the most vibrant places in the city. The project will focus on areas where youth groups gather since youth are expected to be most responsive to the project, according to the UN’s feasibility study presented to both the government and other partners in implementation.
Even though this might be the most serious framework proposed to the city government concerning cycling, it is not the first idea of its kind in Cairo. In July 2016, as part of the The Unplanned Areas Upgrading and Employment-Enhancement Program in Egypt, The Social Fund for Development (SFD) received financing from the Agence Française de Développement to implement a proposed plan that never went through. It was a humanitarian plan that aimed at developing slums by improving the quality of lives of their dwellers and empowering women living in slum areas. According to a proposal document sent to progrss by the Cairo-based Access To Knowledge For Development Center (A2K4D), a bike-sharing system was part of project. The plan included providing 900 units of e-bikes in a selection of slum neighborhoods, including Al Zawya Al Hamraa, Ard El Lewa and Meet Oqba. In the end, however, the project did not come to fruition.
“Definitely there needs to be an awareness campaign on how to share the road and teach cyclists to drive safely, because just because you’re on a bike, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to stop for red lights, for example,” Mousallem adds. “Especially in Cairo, we have so many components on the streets: pedestrians, cars, microbuses, minibuses, CTA’s, motorcycles, etcetera. We need to learn how to share the road.”
Mousallem also believes that it’s important to launch a campaign purposed at “making biking cool” to get more people excited about cycling. “There’s a serious congestion problem in Cairo, we think the best way to solve this is through improving transportation and complimentary tools,” she says. The idea behind bike sharing is just making simpler, easier and more environmentally-friendly solutions for connections, she explains. When commuters take the metro, they still need to take another connection to reach their desired destination. That connection can be a microbus, bus, a taxi, and, at some stations, an auto-rickshaw, locally referred to as a tuk-tuk. This – which is better known as the last mile problem – is what the team hopes to target through their bike sharing program. Mousallem and her team have been inspired by how a lot of countries have used bike sharing to solve their last mile problem, and believe that the bicycle is an ideal mobility tool for short trips and last mile journeys.