Up to 300,000 rail passengers in Egypt try to dodge paying for their train rides every day, with as many as 50,000 succeeding in cheating the struggling state railway service out of a fare.
Railway chief Mustafa Abul Makarem said most fare-dodging took place on rural train services, not on intercity connections, which have stricter measures in place.
The revelation in a TV interview on Saturday night expands the catalogue of woes plaguing Egypt’s railway service.
Egypt’s railway authority has 10,000km of track and employs nearly 45,000 people. Its first route was built in 1854. Two years later, the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and Cairo were linked by rail.
The service’s fares remain among the world’s cheapest despite several increases in recent years. Mr Abul Makarem said one million passengers use the service every day, with the authority collecting just 3.5 to 4 billion pounds ($223 to $254 million) a year in fares.
As well as hundreds of accidents a year – many of them too minor to be reported by local media – passengers regularly endure delays, overcrowding and technical glitches. Thousands of hawkers roam the trains and stations, selling a wide range of food, beverages and other items.
President Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s government has pledged to improve the service, with plans to spend 225bn pounds until 2024 on overhauling it.
Mr Abul Makarem said train stations across the nation last week raised the price to enter platforms for non-ticket holders seeing off friends or family from one pound to three ($0.19).
He said the higher cost for a platform pass would deter many fare dodgers in rural areas to whom a one-pound pass was cheaper than a ticket.
“The raise is also meant to ensure the comfort and safety of passengers by reducing the number of non-ticket holders on platforms,” Mr Abul Makarem said.
Fare dodgers in Egypt dangerously ride on the roof of trains, mostly on rural services. They also hide in the toilets or move between cars to avoid conductors.
Offenders who are caught are routinely made to pay the fare plus a fine. Those who refuse are handed over to the authorities at the next stop or placed under arrest by onboard police officers.
Transport Minister Kamel El Wazir, a retired army general who took the job in 2019, warned in June that he would invite foreign companies to run the railways if negligence and apathy among employees persisted.
His threat was made in the immediate aftermath of two train accidents on consecutive days that left two people dead and more than 40 injured.
The accidents in Cairo and Alexandria followed a series of deadly train disasters in March and April that killed at least 43 and injured hundreds.