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The Consequences of Leaving Egypt's Microbuses Unregulated

The dreaded microbus, a medieval contraption that does more harm than good. Whether you're riding in it or driving behind it, you will feel its wrath!

The Middle East's biggest city, the second biggest in Africa, a city where 14 million people reside; a city this big must surely have an extensive network of public transportation. Well, the options are many, but most are inadequate and some are real life nightmares. Most of these transportation mediums are pretty hazardous and cause traffic congestion. Unfortunately the traffic police are not very helpful, and most of them will turn a blind eye for a small bribe. Microbus and minibus drivers in particular cause the most traffic congestion, with makeshift bus stations popping up on demand regardless of rules and traffic regulations. Most of the vehicles are not fit for the road, and are hazardous to their passengers and the surrounding vehicles. I took to the streets to try and put my finger on the problem, and what can be done to solve it.

I got into a microbus after work to speak with a driver, along the Giza - Haram route, and stayed until all the passengers got out. Every time a passenger would want to get out, the driver would pull over; and any passenger that waved to the driver, he would stop to let them in, usually stopping the traffic behind him to do so. After all the passengers left I started a conversation with the driver. I told him that what I heard is that he's not allowed to pick up passengers except from the bus station and that he's not allowed to stop except at the designated bus stops along the route. "This is not true!" he answered, adding that "there is no law against stopping to drop off and pick up passengers en route." I then asked what he thinks the main reason is behind Cairo's traffic problems in terms of congestion. He replied, "Traffic becomes congested at the times of day that school kids and government workers go to their jobs and when they leave; other than that, there is no 'real' traffic problem. An accident might stop traffic, you know, things like that." Getting more direct, I asked, "What do you think of cars that park at wrong places and double-park, stopping the roads behind them?" His answer was that they should be fined for breaking the law.

Knowing where his route originates I asked him what he thinks of the makeshift microbus station on the exit of the Giza Bridge that leads to Cairo University, and how it stops the entire bridge every morning and afternoon. His reply was mixed: "The problem is we don't have enough space for all the vehicles at the designated bus station." That's not true, though; the official station is always empty. When I told him this, he changed his answer, saying, "We have a huge problem working from these stations because they are situated far from where the customers are, and if you play by the rules and use the station, other drivers don't and you end up waiting for ages to fill up. We don't make these pop up stations, the passengers do. We go where the passengers wait to get a ride." At that point, we arrived at the end of the route where I got out and witnessed another pop-up microbus station loading passengers going back to Giza, also blocking the road behind it. 

The main problem is that the continuous stopping to load and unload passengers hampers traffic; with more than 30 vehicles working each route at any given time, this becomes an issue. Especially when makeshift stations pop up at the beginning and end of each route and you start to see why all roads are usually congested. That's not all, there are also taxis, bigger buses, and private vehicles that stop as they please, regardless of the cars behind them. All of this hampers the flow that needs to be maintained in order to keep the roads clear of traffic. Having just spent the better half of an hour stuck behind this cursed pop-up microbus station that is on my way to work every morning, I decided to speak to a traffic police man who was standing by the station and doing nothing.

"Don't you see these microbuses? Why aren't you forcing them to not park here?" I interrogated him. His reply was, "All I can do is write them a ticket, and I already did that to all of them - in fact, I finished my ticket booklet. I wrote them up twice each and they still refuse to leave, what can I do?" When I asked him why he doesn't report them to his superiors, he said, "I do! Every day I issue a report and all my superiors can do is issue an order to remove them by force; those who resist are arrested. We do that every two weeks or so, but they keep coming back!" I felt helpless to end Cairo's traffic problem; all my ideas to solve it have been strangled by the city. I got back into my taxi and decided to re-examine the situation. 

Traffic is a problem everywhere in the world. New York, Paris, London, Moscow, and Mumbai are among the world's toughest places when it comes to traffic. Paris actually suffered from the longest standing traffic jam of all time 34 years ago, stretching back 109 miles towards Lyon. Mumbai is a commuter's nightmare; so is Moscow. Yet, somehow, Cairo's traffic is of a different nature. It's constant, unrelated to rush hours. Not only that, but Cairo traffic takes you by surprise. Certain apps that give you access to user reports across the city can help, but sometimes they don't give exact information and you find yourself stuck in a jam. Rush hour is a nightmare during which a trip that should take 20 minutes can last up to two hours. Examining the situation, it's clear that micro/mini buses, buses, and taxis are the main force behind the problem, and private car drivers that disobey traffic rules account for the rest. Compared to other mega cities, Cairo streets are not as crowded as Mumbai or Moscow, but the lack of a functioning system is what makes our traffic appear to be worse than those cities. The traffic police cannot solve the problem since it is not them who are responsible for causing it; they can only help enforce the laws and regulate the traffic. Other than that, it is our job to follow the rules. The problem is most drivers on the road don't even know them!