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29 October 2007

Bus Stop

Long-Distance Buses…
An alternate way of travelling.



By Hoda Nassef



There are many ways of travelling inside Egypt, apart from the trains or airplanes. Many good air-conditioned buses travel throughout Egypt, and even up to Libya, which are cheaper than taking the plane, but almost just as comfortable, despite the longer hours. From Alex to Cairo, and vice versa, you reach your destination in three hours. From Alex to Marsa Matrouh or the North Coast, you reach your destination in five hours or less. To Sharm El-Sheikh, in less than six hours. All buses are equipped with air-conditioning, snacks, inbound video TV to make the time pass faster for restless children, and even toilets. Some of these buses have the capacity to turn the chairs into veritable lounge chairs or can be flattened for sleeping. You can even cross borders at almost half the fare paid for a plane ticket, and visas or entrance to other countries depend on current political situations. One of these daily outward bound buses are to Libya, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, for instance, that have real sleeping compartments. But as with all destinations outside of Egypt, you must have a passport. So, I will not mention the procedures of the outwards bound buses at this stage.

However, inside Egypt, and just a couple of months ago, I wanted to make a real ‘live’ and fair comparison of each bus, so I chose West Delta bus (formerly the Pullman) from Cairo to Alex, and returned the same day from Alex to Cairo by the Super Jet bus (formerly Golden Arrow). Prices of the West Delta buses start at L.E. 20 only. However, I am sorry for West Delta Co. to say that there is a big difference in both buses and staff. On August 20, at 9 a.m., no noticeable maintenance in the West Delta bus, which looked neglected and was not at all clean. It had not been cleaned even during the brief stop at the terminus. Throughout the three hours, the driver chain-smoked and left his window wide open, while at the same time he was a bit inattentive to the traffic, as he chatted with his colleague all the way to Alexandria. The air-condition was great at the front of the bus, but people complained from the middle till the end that it was hot; thus, A/C worked only half-way through the bus. I was lucky to have reserved a seat in the front! No refreshments were offered or sold. I never enter the WCs, so I cannot talk about its hygiene or cleanliness, but judging from the dirty bus front, I guess that it was much dirtier inside the toilet!


The driver held out a video tape, then changed his mind and did not insert the film. On the positive side, the bus came to the Abdel-Moneim Riyadh terminus on the dot, and no accidents occurred! We all arrived safely to our destination. Also, all destinations and fees are at least five Egyptian Pounds cheaper than the Super Jet, and if squeezed for timing, you can get a bus at nearly any time or day you choose. Furthermore, the counter staff are more cheerful and respectful to all who buy their tickets! Also, you don’t have to go to Heliopolis to book a front seat if boarding in the Tahrir Square (Abdel-Moneim Riyadh) – thus they are finally computerized and connected to the other branches.

As for the Super Jet (formerly The Golden Arrow) on my way back to Cairo, from Alex at 5 p.m., the ticket was naturally L.E. 5 more, but worth it! Perfect air-conditioning, and very clean. It was probably one of the newly purchased buses as well, as there were no apparent wear and tear; in other words, good maintenance and very clean. Snacks are sold as well, but you have to ask for the price-list, or the hostess on board might invent them! And, you won’t get a price-list even if you ask for one, so rely on her honesty.


The air-condition was great, throughout the whole bus, even at the moment you board the bus, which was a great relief, as it was particularly hot and humid in Alexandria on Sunday 20 August. The bus came early to give time for loading luggage, and left on the dot at 5 p.m. The polite and calm driver did not smoke, therefore his window was shut! Very smooth driver too. Video tape of a new ‘last year’ Arabic film was aired, and nothing in the film to embarrass parents. I can only guess that the W.C. was relatively clean, as all else seemed so, on the outer appearance. Despite the heavy traffic while entering Cairo, the bus was on time in the Tahrir Square, according to the schedule, after three hours only.

There are many new lines of the Super Jet, including new names to match the new prices! Prices begin at L.E.25 from Cairo to Alex or vice versa, and you can get a bus every half an hour. Then you have a new bus line called ‘Five Stars’, where one pays L.E.30, which offers a free soft drink. Then there is the VIP once every day, which is L.E.35 and really a luxury, where one side have one seats only, and the other far-spaced two seats. I like that one, because I can never guess who will be squashed beside me…a fat man, maybe, or a mother with a messy and noisy kid! To sit alone and stretch out at my ease, is a luxury! There are also about three double-deckers with sleeping compartments up, and lounge or cafeteria down, for long-distance travelling.


Furthermore, as for outside of Egypt, which entails a passport, it takes about 15 hours to reach Libya, and costs L.E. 150. You may enquire about the other countries, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia – (excluding Pilgrimages) – for timetables and duration, and accurate costs, also depending on the ‘seasons’, as prices tend to fluctuate from year to year and maybe even from summer to winter. On the negative side, and to my surprise, they are still not computerized in all ticket counters! So, back to the manual system, which means that I have to go to Heliopolis, for example, if I want to book a front seat ticket, and can’t get that from El-Tahrir Square - which is closer to my house!

But in Alexandria, it is not a problem, and if I go early enough, I can choose any seat I like, because we go from Alex directly out. As for the Northern Coast or Marsa Matrouh, it takes five hours to reach the destination, and minimum ticket price (this month) starts at L.E.50, then mounts to L.E.65 or more, depending on the type of bus. As for Sharm El-Sheikh, it takes about six hours and I think it costs about L.E 65 or L.E. 75. Anyhow, one must ask each time, and we will begin the winter tourist season, so prices by November or December will probably mount for Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh, whereas Marsa Matrouh’s ticket counter as well as bus route will close down in winter.

PLEASE NOTE: Prices for all buses vary EACH YEAR, and unfortunately almost ALL fares increase annually. So, you must check in advance before travelling, just as you do for airplane tickets!

By the way, if by chance you find yourself there at the Super Jet station in Alexandria a bit early, you can rest at the Jet Café, which takes the length of the sidewalk and is actually a sidewalk café, just across the station for a good coffee or canned and soft drinks. On the other hand, if you want to have a snack, ice-cream, pizza or full meal, keep on walking 100 meters past Jet Café - (after the ILI institute in the same building, which is situated on the first floor, but has a big sign hanging out) - and there at the corner you will find another sidewalk café called Non Solo Pizza, with an inside sitting place also, where you can have anything you want to eat or drink. Greeting you in Arabic, Italian, Greek or any language, is the jolly half-Italian owner with a weathered and leathered sun-tanned face, and his two young boys will serve you quickly for you to be on time for your bus and destination. You can have any type of meal, sandwich, pizza, soft drink, tea or coffee, and ice-cream, with very reasonable prices. You may prefer that, to eating on the bus, which isn’t as fulfilling, has a limited choice of snacks, and probably not available on most routes in the first place.


H.N.

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