Nearly 3.5 million people rely on Cairo's metro everyday to get from point A to point B. But the metro is facing dire financial difficulties, leading some to fear commuters will need to find other means of transport in the not-so distant future.
The state-run Egyptian Company for Metro Management and Operation has not paid its electricity and water bills for 18 months, racking up a debt of 300 million Egyptian pounds ($16.6 million), according to Al Monitor. This is because Egypt is facing a major cash crunch exacerbated by its decision to float its currency in November.
Utilities companies have threatened to cut their service to the metro, and the German company maintaining the metro's elevators and escalators, said its contract with the metro will not be renewed.
In an effort to address the metro debt crisis, fares have been doubled, rising from 1 pound to 2 pounds. And Egyptian commuters aren't happy. The ticket was previously subsidized by nearly 96 percent.
"We can't take another price hike"
"They should have some mercy on us. We can't take another price hike to the long list of things that have become more expensive," Mohammad, a daily commuter, told The New Arab.
"Everyone is having economic problems," he said.
And the service has already been suffering for months.
"A journey that used to take 25 minutes to downtown can take almost an hour due to the long intervals among trains and occasional breakdowns," Tharwat Hamdi, another commuter, told Gulf News.
Egyptians have already made significant cuts
Egypt's pound was formerly pegged to the U.S. dollar. In the beginning of November, the central bank announced it would float the currency. The value of the pound was roughly cut in half, sending shockwaves through the Egyptian economy and crippling consumers' spending power.
Before the flotation, prices were already high for average Egyptians, even for the most basic items. In October, due to a dollar shortage in the country, Egyptians were having a hard time even finding sugar to purchase, if they could afford it.
Food and drink prices have increased nearly 40 percent since the flotation. Some meat prices have even increased as much as 50 percent.
More people have started using public transport (such as the metro). They are also sending their children to cheaper private schools, buying local instead of imported goods and even cutting back on their electricity use.
But, for a third of Egypt's population, which lives on $1.9 a day or less, there's no room to cut back.
"For people who are more working class or poor, there's less room for belt-tightening at this point since such a large percentage of their salary was already devoted toward purchasing food," Timothy Kaldas, a non-resident fellow with the Tahrir Institute for Middle East policy, said.
Some experts don't think a price hike is the solution
"Administrative failure is one of the main reasons the Cairo metro company is in the doldrums. The whole administrative system should be updated," Economic expert Rashad Abdo told Al-Monitor.
"The company should rely on [outside] experts to reach creative and sound solutions. Merely talking about increasing prices whenever faced by any economic hurdle is an indicator of bad management and a lack of future vision," he said.
Abdo also said halting the metro is not a viable option, warning it would paralyze the country. Although he recognizes that subsidies are a burden on the state and services like the metro, Abdo said, "detailed studies about the country's and citizens' economic conditions" need to be carried out to "reach a compromise."
Nonetheless, the metro insists the ticket price was a major problem.
"Losses are continuing due to the difference between the present ticket price and the real cost," Ahmad Abdul Hadi, a spokesperson for the metro, said. At the same time, officials have admitted the increased price won't make up for the metro's significant losses and debt.
And for Egyptian commuters, who are already suffering under the country's economic woes, the ticket price hike isn't going to make anything better.