Egypt on the road to lower emissions with the Sustainable Transport Project

 Youth getting ready for a cycling festival that took place at Shebin El Kom, Monoufia governorate. Credits: UNDP/Fatma Elzahraa Yassin

It can be hard to slow down in Egypt these days. The country’s population is skyrocketing—reaching 90 million this December, with some 9 million in Cairo alone. With the jump in people has come a jump in automobiles—there are some 2.5 million cars speeding along Cairo’s streets, a number that is increasing every day.

That means a jump in emissions. The World Bank estimates that the annual costs of traffic congestion in Cairo is some 50 billion Egyptian pounds, a figure that includes production losses, additional fuel consumption and negative impacts on the environment. The transport sector contributes 55 percent of Egypt’s 220 million metric tonnes of emissions.  

Not long ago, bicycles were used as the primary way of getting around. But use has declined in many of Egypt’s smaller cities, a trend attributed to the rise in incomes and concerns that cycling is dangerous in heavily trafficked areas. Motorcycles are rapidly taking the place of the bicycle as a means of transport for younger Egyptians.

“You would see piles of bikes parked in the streets,” says Mohamed Fathy, Project Manager of the Sustainable Transport Project for Egypt (STP). “But today, motorized bikes have replaced them and the scene has changed. We are hoping that this can be reversed again”.

STP—implemented by the Egyptian Ministry of Environment, supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF)—aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption in the transport sector. STP is implementing pilot projects in Shebin El-Kom, in the southern Nile River Delta region, and Fayoum, southwest of Cairo. These pilots are introducing non-motorized transport (NMT) that can help ameliorate the social, economic and environmental consequences of transportation emissions.  

“We hope to see this in all governorates in Egypt. It is easy, cheap and environmentally friendly. In Cairo, it was very odd to see bikes in the streets. It is becoming more common to see, especially in the weekends. We have now Egyptian bikers who gather and promote biking”, says Sarah Ahmed, part of a group of young Egyptians who meet to plan rides and promote cycling.

Two 14 km NMT corridors have been built in Fayoum and Shebin El-Kom, providing designated areas for walking and cycling. The project has launched an awareness campaign in cooperation with several NGOs and has also facilitated the purchase of bicycles through monthly, zero-interest installment plans. 290 bicycles have been purchased in Shebin El-Kom and 191 in Fayoum over the last 6 months.

The Project is also installing several types of parking racks to make cyclists feel confident that their bicycles will be safe when unattended. About 371 parking racks, exclusively designed by the Project, will be installed before the end of this year in 15 different locations in Shebin-El-Kom, and another 205 in Fayoum.

Girls and young women are a focus, as gender stereotypes often prevent women from taking advantage of bicycles.

"In some places here in Menoufeya, girls have been denied the opportunity to ride bicycles in public, until now," says Hind Amin. Hind founded "Sabaya El-Menoufeya for cycling," a group that encourages women to cycle.

Overall, STP is seeking to address five issues: improving transport services for Greater Cairo via public-private partnerships; promoting NMT in medium-sized provincial cities; introducing new traffic demand management measures; improving the energy efficiency of freight transport; and enhancing the awareness and capacity of local professionals and strengthening institutions’ ability to promote sustainable transport.

Emissions will be decreased by 262,000 tonnes over the next 20 years as a direct result of successful implementation of the pilot projects, and a total of 4 million tonnes of CO2 can be avoided if the pilot is successfully implemented in all 27 of Egypt’s medium-sized cities.

"Increasing the modal share of NMT is possible in any country,” says Dr. Mona Kamal, Head of the Environmental Quality Sector in the Ministry of Environment and the National Coordinator of the STP. “Strong policies, awareness campaigns and political commitment can bring about a shift in public attitudes towards NMT."

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