Being subject to chronic traffic can have a variety of side-effects on the wary driver: from a perpetual scowl or a nail-biting habit to — more commonly — an uncanny ability to form strings of colloquial expletives.
In some rare cases, though, traffic can inspire. For Hesham Abdel Wahab and his partners, the intolerable situation led to the creation of Egyptcarpoolers.com. The idea is simple: why have four cars carrying a single passenger each when you can have a single car carry four passengers?
"When I moved to the suburbs of Sheikh Zayed City, taking the 26 July Corridor to work everyday meant a lot of time in traffic," says Abdel Wahab. "Looking at everyone else, I could see that — like me — they all had three or four extra seats to share in their otherwise empty cars. Surely, I thought, some of those people were going to the same place I was."
But how to reach those other solitary drivers? That’s exactly what Egyptcarpoolers.com tries to do.
After registering on the site, would-be carpoolers can offer rides — or request ones — to particular locations, after which the system links them to those with similar destinations and schedules. The free service launched on 12 October and has since attracted nearly 700 registered users, with the system generating some 75 links from the roughly 250 ride requests/offers posted online.
The implications of the service are potentially wide-ranging. If everyone began carpooling, Cairo could see as much as three quarters of its traffic disappear. The service is also available in Egypt’s second city, Alexandria.
So why hasn’t anyone thought of it before?
According to May el-Hagar, a co-founder of Egyptcarpoolers, the reluctance of most people — especially women — to ride to work with a total stranger represents a chief obstacle. "For most women, the idea of driving with a strange man to work is just not going happen," she says.
Yet that being said, four of the five co-founders of Egyptcarpoolers.com are women. "You see," explains Abdel Wahab, "our website comes with a number of safety features."
One of these features is simple: users cannot see any of the rides posted on the site, whether requested or offered. "Unlike carpooling websites abroad," assures Abdel Wahab, "no one can manually try to match themselves with a particular ride." This will eliminate the ability of those with less-than-honorable intentions to choose who they ride with.
What’s more, users can "rate" the people they have ridden with before and can even review profiles of would-be carpool partners. Also, much like social-networking site Facebook, Egyptcarpoolers allows users to add "friends" to their particular network. When posting a ride, they can request that the system link them only with their friends, or with friends of friends.
Ultimately, like crossing any Cairo street, there will always be risks and uncertainties involved. What’s certain, though, is that for a service like Egyptcarpoolers to work, it’s going to require thousands and thousands of online members. Otherwise, the chances of being linked with someone going to the same place at the same time will remain slim to none.
Finally, everyday car owners — sick to death of the capital’s soul-destroying traffic — have the power to change the status quo. So the question begs itself: to pool or not to pool?
Given the obvious fact that Egypt’s urban traffic only gets worse with each passing year, we may no longer have a choice.