Is Egypt finally ready for ride-sharing?

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Uber and Careem fares have become unaffordable for many Egyptians, as fuel costs continue to rise following the floatation of the currency in November last year.

The quality of public transport is not expected to improve soon and as prices for the Cairo Metro doubled last month, the market is finally ripe for new transportation startups to offer low-cost bus rides at better quality.

“Normally Uber and Careem fares are cheaper than [regular] white taxis, but lately with the continuous surge and peak prices, I had no option but stop using them because they burdened my budget, which was already hit after the floatation,” said Ayman Abdel Hamid, a 28-year-old creative writer.

Buseet launched in July last year, Kalax in February and Swvl in late March, all offering public transport-like alternatives to the taxi hailers.

They hope to be more successful than the bus- and ride-sharing apps that appeared and quickly disappeared in the years after 2011, such as Kartag, Pie Ride, AUC Carpooling Community and Tawseela.

Other carpooling apps are still trying to draw attention in a competitive market, such as Raye7 and Go-Go Car, and Wadeeny, an app that began in 2011 as a carpooling solution, relaunched recently as an app to compare taxi-hailer fares.

Cairo's bus, taxi, metro and in this image, tram, systems simply don't cater to an aspirational class of young Egyptians demanding more from their public transport. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Hyper competition

Egypt’s tech-enabled transportation market is one of the most competitive in the region.

Already plans by Ousta, last year’s hot rival to Uber and Careem, have been knocked off course by investors unwilling to sink funds into a tight market.

Mobile app Kalax emerged in February, connecting people to their nearest transportation, be it bus or a passenger car, but after operating for one month it stopped. It says it’s preparing to expand to include school and corporate transportation and will resume after three months.

Kalax’s parent company E-smart Press saw that Egypt’s massive market for cheap transportation could accommodate a wider range of services than just taxi hailing, said E-smart Press project manager Mohamed Abdel Rehim.

“Our strong point is that we will not take a certain percentage from drivers after each completed ride, however, we will only ask them to pay a monthly subscription fee regardless of how many rides they make,” he told Wamda.

Kalax, which includes the options to order a car, white taxi, bus, tuk tuk or a tow truck, is planning to grow its fleet to include 15,000 vehicles by the end of 2017.

Needs and wants

A suited Swvl driver.
(Image via Tasneem Mohamed)

Swvl founder Mostafa Kandil, who was formerly a member of Careem’s growth team, saw a gap in the Egyptian market for a van service that was higher quality than Cairo’s current public transport options, but didn’t cost much more. It’s already proven popular.

Tasneem Mohamed, an HR officer at a Cairo-based company, said she was spending a third of what she normally did on Ubers and the vehicles were equipped with Wifi and smart phone chargers.

“I am a regular Uber user, but I must say this is leaps better than Uber and Careem,” Mohamed told Wamda. “The fact that there are also other people in the car makes it easier to feel safe rather than being stuck with a driver alone on a highway.”

The startup offers users fixed bus routes with several stops between the pickup point and the destination; users can get off at any of these points. Less than one week after the launch, Swvl had more than 3,000 registered accounts and four fixed routes serviced by 200 vans. Trips to seaside town El Gouna in Hurghada and the North Coast are planned for May and June respectively.

Private bus routes

Nine-month-old Buseet, which can be accessed via desktop or mobile phones, offers users seven bus routes that start at different times throughout the day.

“We are targeting youth because we know they will be more familiar with using technology in their daily life,” said marketing manager Karim Khattab.

Before their launch, Buseet gathered recommendations and routes preferences from potential users, “and depending on that, we set specific meeting points for commuters to start their trips”, Khattab told Wamda.

With each ride taking up to 10 passengers, Buseet users can book their trips any time no later than 30 minutes before the ride start time, and cost between 20-30 Egyptian pounds (US$1.11-1.67) per ride depending on the distance covered.

“We are serving now 100 passengers per day, but this is still a low average for us and we are working to make Buseet further grow and update our routes on a regular basis,” he said.

Egyptians have already grown used to non-traditional transportation thanks to Uber, Careem and Ousta, so unlike their predecessors the new players don’t have to teach people how to use them.

They will however, have to prove their ability to offer not just better quality but cheaper rides to customers, to grow and stabilize their business.

Feature image via Flickr.

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