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During the last 9 years, Egypt has increased its number of people using bicycles as a mean of transport for daily trips; bike’s users are less than 5 % of the population whereas 95 % still depends on private cars and public transport.
In other countries, as in Netherlands, more than 30 % of people use bicycles for daily trips, so why do this not happen in Egypt?
This article wishes to be a comparison between the contemporary cycling scene in Egypt and France and aims to analyze why the progress is slower in Egypt.
French people have been using the bicycles as a mean of transport for many decades and France was one of the leading bicycle manufacturers. Egyptians think that bicycles are a mean of transport for lower social classes and they believe it can be only suitable for minor class workers like buildings’ guards or food delivery people. In the countryside, on the contrary, schoolteachers and government employees use bicycles for daily trips probably due to the short distances and the lack of public transport. Recently, many Egyptian celebrities and politicians, as President Abdel Fatah El Sisi, are using bicycles in order to convince people that they are suitable for all social classes.
Bicycles lanes, and Quality of Roads
Bicycles lanes provide more safety and freedom for cyclists and encourage people to ride. In France and in many European countries, bicycles lanes are present in almost all the city’s roads. In Strasbourg, for example, cycling routes take different paths than the regular roads and gives more privacy and safety for bicycle users. In Egypt, bicycle lanes only exist on an experimental scale in some small cities (Shebin El Kom in Monofeya and Fayoum City) and private compounds. They have not been implemented yet in big cities; government officials affirm that in the big cities, as Alexandria and Cairo, there are not enough bicycle users to make bicycle lanes. Only if a significant number of cyclists start to use their bicycles for daily commuting, then the government might consider making bicycle lanes more seriously. On the other hand, building bicycle lanes would help cities in promoting cycling and encourage people to change their habits (the question of the chicken and the eggs). Increasing awareness and encouraging both cyclers and car users to share the road safely and respecting each other can increase the use of the bicycle in big cities.
Regulation and Integration with public transport.
For many bicycle commuters, taking the bicycle inside public transport as a part of the daily trip is necessary to cover long distances that could not be covered by only riding. In France, there are specific regulations (Code de la Route) for bicycle users as the necessity of having both front and rear brakes working, installing reflectors on the bicycles (white in the front and red in the back) and the obligation of wearing helmets for children less than 12. Whereas the Egyptian laws never mention bicycles. Transport authorities in France have different regulations regarding this issue: while most buses do not allow bicycles inside, many regional trains have a dedicated space. Bicycles can also be admitted on board in some tramways outside the peak hours. In Egypt, transport authorities restrict the transport of bicycles in all public transports making trips harder for many bicycle commuters that cannot take advantage of the modal shift for long distances.
Price of a good bicycle and rental systems.
The price of a good new bicycle is usually around 300 or 400 Euros. In France, 300 Euros are quarter of a medium monthly salary, while in Egypt 300 Euros represent the average salary of 3 or 4 months and this prevents many people from buying a good bicycle in Egypt. However, in France a large second hand markets exist which allows to purchase bicycles from 50 euros.
In France, there are many entities that provides different rental systems; some of them are totally private and others are led by the city official authorities. In Paris, the official bicycles rent platform is Velib, a bike-sharing network managed by JCDecaux and made up of 1800 stations and a fleet of around 15000 bicycles that allows users to take a bicycle from one station and to return it in any other station around the city. The average duration of a rental in Paris is between fifteen minutes and one hour. Strasbourg launched a bike-sharing program named Velhop that consists of about 5000 bicycles, twenty automatic stations for short term rental (one hour to one day) and five shops around the city. Differently from Paris, this system allows long term rental, from one to twelve months. . The costs of the systems are very different for the local authorities. A Velib-like system in France costs to the municipality between 2100 Euros and 4000 Euros per bike per year following the city and the number of users, while the long term rental system used in Strasbourg costs to the municipality between 300 Euros and 800 Euros per bike per year.
In Egypt, bicycle rentals has mostly a recreational purpose: users rent bicycles from shops for limited time for tourism or pleasure. In Alexandria and Cairo, Friday’s group rides has become very common as they afford people to buy a ticket for a cycling event in which bicycles are being delivered to the start point and taken at the end point. The Cycle Egypt initiative has introduced also a monthly bicycle rent whose subscription rates start from 2 Euros up to 20 Euros per month. This rental system needs continuous support from sponsors to provide the users with high quality bicycle for the lowest price possible but after the devaluation of the Egyptian pound, many companies stopped their support.
Future plans for spreading the cycling culture in Egypt
Increasing social awareness about cycling and traffic for both bicycle and car users will allow them to share the roads safely. The government should start consider bike-friendly roads and introduce bicycle in traffic laws. Last 8 years developments were significant, but more efforts must be done to spread a cycling culture and involve not only bicycle merchants and mechanics, but also devoted administrative workers and government officials.