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Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Bike-sharing program Bicicletta to make its debut in March

PROJECT PROFILE- Egypt’s long-awaited bike-sharing scheme slated for March launch: Years in the making, bike-sharing program Bicicletta could land in Cairo in March, finally bringing an alternative, environmentally-friendly means of public transport to Wust El Balad, where the streets are often gridlocked and the air quality is poor.

Cycling culture has been on the rise in Egypt: While the pandemic forced the closure of gyms and sports clubs in 2020, the disruption may have helped to usher in a newfound interest in cycling. "After sports centers shut down, cycling became an alternative” for people, said Mohamed Helmy, marketing manager at Bescletta bike shop — not to be confused with Bicicletta the project.

Enter Bicicletta: Having faced long delays after first being introduced to us back in 2017, the Bicicletta project is on track to launch in Cairo in March, Ahmed El Dorghamy, Basic Services and Climate Change Programme Officer at UN-Habitat — one of the project’s key backers — told Enterprise. “We are in the process of finalizing the demo bike and the demo station … we expect it to be in the streets by March,” he said.

The project will initially launch in what is arguably Cairo’s most crowded area: Downtown. “It will start on a trial basis in Zamalek, Garden City and Downtown" before expanding to other areas, El Dorghamy told us. The project currently has plans to install 45 bike-sharing stations — all of which will be solar powered — equipped with a total of 500 bikes, he said.

How it will work: Bicicletta users have the option to either subscribe online or sign up by visiting the project’s information desk, which will be located in Tahrir Square, El Dorghamy said. An app will then direct them to the nearest Bicicletta station and using their smartphones they can unlock the bike. After they’re done cycling they return the bike to the nearest station and their total will be calculated based on how long they used it.

How much will it cost? That remains to be seen, according to El Dorghamy, who told us that the prices are still yet to be determined. Bicicletta’s services will be subsidized for the first five years after the project’s implementation to ensure that the service is affordable for all, he said, without providing further information.

Who’s taking part? The project is being implemented by the Cairo Governorate, in partnership with the UN-Habitat, Swiss nonprofit Drosos Foundation and the American Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). A consortium of Egyptian and Danish firms has been chosen to operate the project.

Sources of finance: Drosos is providing USD 1.4 mn in financing for the project. We were unable to find out who else is contributing funds.

Cyclists vs. Egyptian streets: Unpaved Egyptian streets with their many bumps and potholes, as well as the volume of traffic, pose major challenges for cyclists. “We need better road quality and traffic calming measures to ensure a safer environment for cyclists,” El Dorghamy told us, explaining that additions like speed bumps and zebra crossings are needed to slow traffic and reduce risk to cyclists.

A solution: Bike lanes. Bicycle lanes are on the way as part of the state’s infrastructure drive, Khaled Siddiq, president of the Urban Development Fund, told Enterprise — a move that would help to facilitate an increase in bike riders on the streets of the capital. The government is yet to announce the specifics of the project, including where the cycle lanes will be placed, when they expect to finish them, and how much they will cost.

This isn’t the first time someone’s tried to make bike-sharing a thing in Egypt: Baddel, an e-bike sharing system that made its debut in 2017, had 37 stations in several locations around the country, including at SODIC West in Sheikh Zayed, AUC, Gouna and Fayoum. Enterprise was unable to reach a representative of the company for comment.

Bike-sharing could boost cycling culture: Helmy believes that the project could further increase interest in cycling as a means of transport. "The project will give people the chance to experience bike-riding and will increase the number of people wanting their own personal bike,” he told us.

The government seemed to be backing cycling culture in a big way a few years ago with its “A bike for every citizen” initiative. The Sports Ministry said in 2019 that hundreds of thousands of bikes would be distributed to members of the public, helping to lower pollution levels in urban areas and decrease traffic congestion. Some 100k bikes were handed out in the first phase of the project, and the ministry pledged to deliver a bike to all students at select universities. The government is also offering members of the public the chance to purchase bikes at discounted prices under the “Your Bike, Your Health” initiative.

But: We’ve heard little about “A bike for every citizen” in the 2.5 years since its announcement and the current status of the program remains unclear.

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