CAIRO — On April 28, Egyptian Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel Ati laid the cornerstone of the River Bus Project in Dakahlia, northeast of the Nile Delta. The project will cost 21 million Egyptian pounds ($1.1 million) and is part of the Egyptian government’s efforts to expand the use of Nile River buses in the transport of individuals and goods.
Several regions in Greater Cairo, including Cairo, Giza, Qalyubia and Helwan, are connected by river buses, which are boats that navigate on the river. In this vein, the Egyptian government is looking to reduce traffic congestion. A river bus ticket costs 2 Egyptian pounds, the equivalent of 11 cents.
According to a December 2017 article in Al-Sharq al-Awsat, river buses emerged in the 1960s as part of a project implemented by the Public Transport Authority. The project was based on a decision issued by the Egyptian government following the July 1952 Revolution, and the boats are still well maintained.
Abdel Azim Mohamed, the head of the River Transport Authority (RTA), told Al-Monitor over the phone that the RTA prepared a project earlier this year to spread river buses in the governorates that overlook the Nile. By establishing new berths in the governorates overlooking the Nile and purchasing boats, the number of individuals and goods transported through the Nile River will increase.
The government is looking to implement the project in 10 governorates overlooking the Nile, namely: Dakahlia, Menoufia, Gharbia, Beni Suef, Minya, Assiut, Sohag, Qena, Luxor and Aswan, Mohamed said.
A report issued by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) and published by the Masrawy website in July 2016, revealed that 2015 marked an increase in the number of individuals opting for river buses, with 48.8 million passengers taking river buses in 2015 compared to 24.3 million in 2014.
Imad Nabil, a professor of transportation and traffic at Ain Shams University, told Al-Monitor that citizens rely on river buses to avoid the heavy traffic plaguing Greater Cairo.
Dakahlia Gov. Ahmad al-Shaarawi confirmed in statements published by Sada El Balad website on Feb. 8 that the Nile Research Institute and the Maritime Research and Consultation Center have completed all the related studies.
Mohamed said, “We submitted the project to all of the concerned governors and have started implementing it in Dakahlia. We put down the cornerstone of the project on April 28 in the hopes that it would succeed and serve as a lever for its adoption in other governorates. I spoke to Luxor Gov. Mohamed Badr and he welcomed the idea. We are currently discussing the start of the implementation process.”
He said that expanding the river bus project will alleviate traffic, reduce fuel consumption and decrease road accidents.
Egyptians suffer from traffic congestion, especially on working days. The World Bank estimated the losses incurred by the Egyptian economy due to traffic congestion in Cairo at about 50 billion Egyptian pounds a year ($2.8 billion).
Nabil said that using river buses in several governorates helps alleviate the heavy traffic burden on citizens who waste a lot of their time in traffic.
“Public transport faced mounting pressure over the past years and caused traffic congestion," Nabil said. "This is why using river buses in most governorates overlooking the Nile helps the citizens of these governorates move from one bank of the Nile to another in a faster way. River transport fulfills its task in Greater Cairo, and moving forward, its share of public transport should not go below 7% of the total of trips.”
He further stated that transporting goods through the Nile is another benefit of this project, as heavy transporting vehicles burden the road network.
“In the 1950s, 23% of the goods were transported through the railway, while 10% of them were transported through the river. However, 99% of the goods are currently transported through the road network. This is why using the river to transport individuals and goods would be a very important step,” Nabil said.
For his part, Mohamed said in statements to El-Watan newspaper on April 20, “There are short-, medium- and long-term visions and strategies to have river transport return to a better position in the coming period.” He added that only 0.5% of the goods are currently transported through the Nile.
The Egyptian government is betting on the private sector to increase the percentage of goods transported through the Nile River to 4% by 2030.
Minister of Transport and Communications Hisham Arafat said in remarks to Almal newspaper on Oct. 15 that a plan has been developed to improve the river transport sector. Such a plan, he said, involves the extensive participation of the private sector, which is required to increase the goods it transports through the Nile.
In a February 2017 statement, Arafat said the fact that 99% of the goods are transferred through road transportation was “very dangerous to the road network.”