Simple Steps to Master the Cairo Metro

by Kristina · 2 comments



Welcome to Cairo! As soon as you exit customs, you’ll have your first nail-biting experience when you climb into a cab. Drivers weave in between minivans and buses, driving what must be way above any kind of speed limit. It doesn’t end there. I have to say: Egyptian drivers seem to consider driving their cars backwards an acceptable skill. Not to driving backwards to parallel park, mind you, but driving down streets. Backwards.

So what do you do about transportation? There are donkey carts, but they normally tote produce and children, not visitors. Camels are out in the desert. Walking gets very hot, very quickly. There is a very safe, clean and efficient solution: the Cairo Metro.

Master the Cairo Metro

I’m a New Yorker; mass transit is my middle name. Still, it is daunting to master a new system, especially in a foreign language. I hope the basics of my experience using Cairo’s metro will make your trip a little easier.
Cairo Metro
Tickets cost 1 Egyptian Pound (about twenty cents in U.S. Dollars). For comparison, single tickets in New York City cost $2.25. Once you enter a station, there are employees behind a plexiglass window. Don’t push anyone, but don’t just stand back. Be assertive, pass your coin to the employee and say “shukran” (thank you) when he (or occasionally, she) gives you your yellow ticket. Do not try to pay for a ticket with a bill larger than 5 Egyptian Pounds. You will have to wait for a long while if you try to get small change (or they’ll just give you a bag of coins, which would be very heavy to carry).

Once you get your ticket, you’ll need to put it through a turnstile machine. It will pop out on the other side. TAKE YOUR TICKET. I can’t stress that enough. My first week living in Cairo, I didn’t take my ticket. The turnstile was broken and I gave my ticket to the employee. I forgot to take it back. Unlike New York, you need your ticket to exit. At the next station, the guards noticed I didn’t have my ticket. They motioned me inside a side office, where their boss sat behind a desk, smoking a cigarette.

“Ticket,” he said in English.

“Please, I am a student learning Arabic,” I said in Arabic, because it usually helps situations like these. “I am sorry.”

“You speak Arabic!” The Boss said.

“A little Arabic,” I answered in Arabic before my language skill were exhausted.

“You owe 15 pounds!” He cried, pounding out the numbers on a calculator.

“But I left my ticket at the other station. With the employee.” I said in English, “The turnstile was broken.”

“Fifteen pounds!” he said. “A fine!”

“No. Please. ” I said and repeated where I left my ticket. For about 5 minutes, we went back and forth. Should I just pay? Frankly, I hadn’t even brought 15 Pounds with me. I was just going to class and returning home. I began to fidget nervously.

I don’t know if he figured out the other station had broken turnstiles or he just took pity on me, but finally, The Boss smiled and he told me to go.

“Shukran,” I replied and practically ran from the small office.

Please, learn from my experience.  Remember your ticket.

Cairo MetroOnce you get through the turnstiles, you’ll want to go to until you reach the Ladies Car. There a signs (in Arabic and in English) that indicate approximately where that car will stop.

The advantages of the ladies’ car are, quite obviously, that there are no men. I’ve heard of other women that have gotten “accidentally” groped on Cairo’s metro, which is why I prefer the all-female car, even though it is sometimes more crowded. Also, despite the fact that nearly all of the women are swaddled in yards of fabric and must be sweating like crazy, it doesn’t smell bad. Thank goodness for perfume!

When the train pulls up, you’ll need to look for the “entry” cars and the “exit” cars. In theory, you’re supposed to follow the directions. But in reality, I’ve learned to just go for whatever is the least crowded and hop on. Use caution if you’re running to catch the train: these doors will not retract if they hit something solid. Thus, unlike the New York City subways, if your bag gets stuck in the door, you’re out of luck. If you get stuck in the door, use your muscles! You can usually pry it open long enough to slip your arm into the car.

It isn’t air conditioned, but some cars have fans. Sitting by a window also offers some relief.

The women’s car is a good place to meet Egyptian women. Usually, complimenting babies (“Mash’Allah!”) is a good way to start. Women will usually gesture to you to sit in an open sit, which is kind gesture and usually the start of a conversation. Personally, I love just people watching and looking at all the different styles and patterns of headscarves.

Like any new mass transit experience, it’s a good idea to map out your route before you leave. Figure out where you’re getting off ahead of time because the maps are in Arabic only and some are very faded from the sun. But all of the stations have signs in English and Arabic that say their name, so it shouldn’t be a problem to know when to get off.

Once you leave the car, it’s time to pull that ticket out and insert into the exit turnstile. Really, because I hear that otherwise, there’s a fine.

What advice can you offer for navigating the Cairo Metro?

Any good stories about getting around Cairo? Share in the comments below.

Written by Stephanie Dahle who is a Fulbright fellow studying Arabic in Egypt and women’s healthcare and education in Oman. Previously she was a journalist at Forbes. Check out her website.

Photo courtesy of MrSnooks.

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