Selling itself as the ultimate solution to Cairo’s notorious traffic jams, Buseet, a nascent ride-sharing application, seeks to attract 100,000 users by the end of 2019.
“The problem is quite serious: Egypt’s congested traffic eats up four percent of our annual GDP,” said Amr ElSawy, co-founder of Buseet. “This is a huge amount of money that gets wasted simply as cars are stuck in traffic.”
In July 2016, ElSawy, along with three friends, launched Buseet, initially a website where users could book a bus ride. The founders were inspired by their personal odysseys across Cairo.
“I was living in Sheikh Zayed and I used to work in New Cairo,” said 32-year-old ElSawy, a computer science engineer with eight years’ experience at various technology firms, including Microsoft. “I had to drive for nearly four hours every day. It was extremely exhausting. By the time I arrived at the office, I was already drained. My wife and friends all had the same problem.”
In a 2014 study, the World Bank deemed Cairo’s traffic congestion “a serious problem … with large and adverse effects on both the quality of life and the economy.”
The report found that cars, whether private vehicles or taxis, were the dominant mode of transport in the Greater Cairo Metropolitan Area (GCMA), home to more than one-fifth of Egypt’s 100 million residents. Road travel within the GCMA was “unreliable” as travel time between two points could vary at different times of the day by a factor of three, said the report.
“The co-founders and I started with research about the reasons why people do not ride shared transportation,” said ElSawy. “We realised that this type of transportation did not serve all areas ... It is cheap but it lacks quality and reliability.”
Buseet rapidly evolved from a website to a mobile phone application, targeting primarily car owners who live in the new satellite cities surrounding the capital and are forced to make a daily journey across Cairo to get to work.
The company runs a fleet of 55 air-conditioned buses and operates 150 trips daily. Once the user logs into Buseet, the nearest meeting point pops up along with the respective bus schedule, allowing an instant booking to be made.
According to ElSawy, Buseet not only spares car owners the hassle of driving, it also saves them at least 75 percent of the cost they might spend on private rides. Depending on the distance travelled, the cost of a Buseet ride ranges from EGP27 to EGP43 (U.S.$1.60 to U.S.$2.50).
To kickstart the venture, the founders poured in EGP300,000 (U.S.$18,000) from their own pockets. They subsequently secured investments from local as well as foreign investors, including the Egypt-based Cairo Angels, Saudi firm Vision Ventures and American venture fund 500 Startups.
After joining a Startupbootcamp accelerator programme in Dubai, Buseet launched a separate company in the United Arab Emirates’ largest city which will begin operating soon, said ElSawy.
“Our capital has already increased more than 20-fold since we started,” he said. “We have more than 8,000 users inside Cairo. Our objective is to reach more than 100,000 users and to serve them in the best way.”
The main challenge facing Buseet today is how to upgrade the application in order to make it more friendly to both English- and Arabic-speaking users, said ElSawy, adding that the company is anticipating significant growth in the market.
In 2018, Buseet’s revenues were estimated at EGP4 million (U.S.$241,220), a figure ElSawy expects to increase 15 times by the end of 2019 thanks to the recent investment in the company, as well as a changing ecosystem that might render private rides more uneconomical.
“We believe there is big room in this market. People have become more aware of this type of service,” said ElSawy. “So there is a higher chance to convince more people of giving up their cars especially in light of traffic congestion and increasing fuel prices.”
Since 2014, the Egyptian government has raised fuel prices five times by over 50 percent, in an attempt to reduce state subsidies and overhaul Egypt’s ailing economy. Buseet is not the only company seeking to capitalise on Cairo’s frustrating traffic situation as well as fuel subsidy cuts. In recent years, other ride-sharing applications such as SWVL, Uber Bus and Careem Bus have entered the Egyptian market.
“Competition is a positive thing because it enlarges the market, makes people more aware [of such a service] and forces us as a company to do our best,” said ElSawy.