Fatima Saeed has no difficulty doing her daily shopping. There are plenty of places to shop along the metro line she takes to work, as station entrances and tunnels are now crammed with vendors who spread their wares, from vegetables to household items, on the ground.
Saeed, a government employee in Cairo, used to race to make her daily purchases, either leaving her house early before heading to work, or shopping on her way home.
Now, however, the profusion of vendors at metro stations enables her to find fruits, vegetables, household items, toys and even school supplies, she said.
Saeed said she shops in metro stations out of necessity, as walking and shopping downtown has become rather dangerous due to the political protests and clashes that can occur there.
"The spread of metro markets is attributable mainly to the tense security situation in the areas that were designated as sites for 'one-day markets', which are squares turned into shopping areas to curb the roaming vendor phenomenon," Raed al-Salmouni, a markets inspector in Cairo province, told Al-Shorfa.
"Vendors have spread out once again and have found metro stations to be great locations for plying their trade," he said.
Some metro stations have been observed to do brisk business, he said, such as Sadat station, the main station in Tahrir Square, al-Ataba and al-Shuhada metro stations, as well as others in lower income areas such as Dar el-Salam, al-Marg, Faisal and Halwan.
Additionally, a marked increase has been observed in the number of cart vendors selling sandwiches and foul (fava beans), a staple of low-income citizens.
The latest survey conducted by the Cairo Chamber of Commerce put the number of roaming vendors in metro stations at more than 20,000, al-Salmouni said – 15,000 of whom were to have been absorbed by the one-day markets.
The number of vendors in some metro stations, such as Halwan, Dar el-Salam, al-Marg and Faisal, is more than 500, he added, a number which decreases in proportion to the size of the station.
The number of street vendors has risen significantly in recent months, growing to nearly 4.5 million in 2012 from four million in 2011, according to the Cairo Chamber of Commerce.
"That is a significant percentage of the overall workforce in Egypt," al-Salmouni said.
Residents of some areas have filed official complaints over the metro stations in their area turning into large popular markets, he said.
These complaints have been given careful consideration and vendors have been persuaded to move out of the metro station and limit their presence to the exterior entrances, he said.
Once calm returns to central Cairo, vendors will return to the one-day markets, al-Salmouni said. Cairo province and other provinces on the metro line also are in the process of developing an urgent plan to expand the concept of the one-day market to areas outside central Cairo.
This concept will eventually roll out to every metro-accessible area in order to put an end to the proliferation of street and sidewalk vendors and clean up metro stations, he said.
Abdel Wahab Hassan, a vendor positioned in front of one of the stations, told Al-Shorfa he had applied with the authorities for a spot in the one-day markets.
But the security situation has made it impossible for those markets to take place, he said, forcing him and other roaming vendors to set up once again at metro stations.
Most merchants occupy spots at the entrances of the stations, he said, while others spread their wares inside the stations and even inside subway cars. He said this is going too far, as it defaces the stations and hinders the movement of passengers.
Hassan said this arrangement has been excellent for sellers, however, as people have become accustomed to these new markets and each vendor has his own regular customers.
"The sight of vendors in front of and inside metro stations is very displeasing," Talaat Yahya, a secondary school teacher, told Al-Shorfa. "It is senseless to turn stations into popular markets in this manner."
Endless verbal spats and quarrels erupt between the shop owners and vendors positioned in front of metro stations, he said.
"Furthermore, the congestion caused by shopping passengers has dramatically exacerbated the metro station overcrowding, causing delays for many commuters", he said.