By Lara Sayegh
Do you know that bus operators in the Lebanese informal transportation system, as well as shared taxis (services) drivers have suffered from the lockdown, especially when the whole system has been forced to shut down?
Check how Riders’ Rights has launched the “Bus Line Heroes” campaign to support this vital service along with the essential workers to our society, during the first lockdown.
1- Challenging context
One major challenge witnessed during 2020, caused by the economic crisis and the Covid 19 safety and lockdown measures, was the difficulty to find a convenient way of commute.
We all know that since Covid 19 pandemic started spreading in Lebanon in March 2020, the government took the radical decision, during the first period of the lockdown, to stop all shared transportation activities on the whole territory.
Was this decision adequate to the Lebanese context? No, because it increased the problem instead of resolving it? Simply because it affected the work of many Lebanese citizens including bus and “services” drivers and riders?
This decision did not take into account that public transportation is considered as an essential service in any country. It is all the more vital in Lebanon, especially for essential workers who need to commute in times of crisis. Employees of the vital services such as healthcare, bakeries, grocery, cleaning and delivery workers needed to use these means of transportation simply to go and do their job considered as essential! As these workers were forced to find alternative ways to move to their workplace, nursing, cleaning, selling and delivering food became challenging.
This lockdown measure to stop all buses, vans, taxis and services without any preliminary study, added to the social and economic crisis. We saw transit drivers affected tremendously. Relying mainly on their daily income, they saw themselves deprived from their essential means of living, the ridership stopping suddenly.
2- Germinating initiatives:
We as Riders’ rights, found ourselves concerned with these drivers’ critical situations, as they did not receive any subsidy from the State or any organization. Many organizations we knew and contacted were overloaded with huge humanitarian needs at this time, and were unable to help us compensate the drivers’ loss of their daily income.
In coordination with the Karama initiative in Beirut, we were able to support only 5 drivers with food boxes, during the lockdown
This seemed very little help compared to the high need and the lack of help from any other institution.
That’s how the Bus Line Heroes campaign was born!
3- “Bus line Heroes” campaign
A- Launching details
We asked ourselves: why don’t we launch our own initiative to support drivers? We could support them with money this time, so they will be able to buy what they need!
That’s how the idea of starting a fundraising campaign germinated and developed! Bus Line Heroes was born!
We reached out to Train Train (a local NGO working on the revival of the trains and roads protection in Lebanon) to collaborate in this solidarity campaign as we faced banks restrictions to open bank accounts in Lebanon as an NGO. That’s how we signed an agreement with Train Train to use their bank account for donations.
We launched together with Seattle Transit Riders Union, a US organization that fights for everyone’s access to safe, affordable, and reliable public transit, a GoFUndMe campaign, thanks to our co-founder Jad Baaklini. That’s how we overcame the bank restrictions issue back then.
We were grateful and thankful to receive 3 support videos from partners and friends.
One of our great supporters who offered us a video for the campaign was Mr. Mohamed Mezghani, Secretary General of UITP, the International Association of Public Transport, known to be the only worldwide network to bring together all public transport stakeholders and all sustainable transport modes.
Thanks to The Chain Effect and to its cofounder Ms. Zeina Hawa, we were able to share their video dedicated to our campaign. This NGO promotes and facilitates cycling as a sustainable means of transport in Beirut through street art, community projects, public interventions and planning.
Another promotion video was offered by one of our loyal partners, Train Train, thanks to its Board member, Ms Joanna Malkun, to support our campaign.
The preparation phase for the campaign took about 20 days. As for its launching, we posted actively on social media, for more than 40 days: videos and posts were published weekly to promote the Bus Line Heroes campaign. All our team’s efforts were used to motivate as many people as possible.
B- Our Bus Line Heroes teams
Our volunteer teams were very engaged in this initiative and took the time to do their best to make this happen. They are multi talented and driven by their motivation to support the shared transportation system and by their sense of collective interests and benefits.
- The social media team (Amy, Rawan and Sara) organized the social media campaign on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp groups and through emails.
- outreach team (Rashad, Sirine and Karen) contacted groups pages and influencers to share our videos
- Adele handled the animation
- Omar created the video and the music
- script was brainstormed and developed in collaboration with all the team
- translation and communication team(Tess, Manal and Sireine)
- output team (Manal, Hala and Sireine) reached out drivers and facilitated the money transfer through OMT
- outreach team click to read more insights
Our volunteers were satisfied to see their efforts rewarded by the driver’s smile, being grateful and thankful to this kind of support, minimal be it, but huge regarding their financial critical situation. In this crisis period, they saw riders support their partners, the bus drivers.
C- Bus Line Heroes campaign outcome
We helped more drivers than initially targeted (20) by collecting 2169 USD and transferring it to 34 drivers in Lebanese Pounds through OMT transfer.
This campaign showed a significant sense of solidarity from riders who supported drivers.
We asked drivers to send to us a video or picture of them with the OMT receipt.
Drivers who benefit from this amount were very delighted to receive this kind of help, some of them not believing that someone was thinking of them in these difficult times.
Many drivers informed their colleagues about our work and encouraged them to contact us for support. you could support them by donating though this link
Alongside the Bus Line Heroes campaign, we could also support 20 persons by distributing 20 food boxes thanks to Foodblessed NGO: 10 for drivers and 10 to people with disabilities with the cooperation of LUPD (NGO that aims for an inclusive national, regional and international societies).
We are constantly aiming to empower the public transportation in Lebanon, to improve its services, with the cooperation of the drivers, those heroes who are the main actors and partners in this essential Sector.
The financial crisis in Lebanon made it all the more hard for drivers to cope, so that sooner or later they won’t be able to repair their vehicles, because of the lira devaluation and the hyperinflation. This might affect the system safety and lead to the total interruption of the mobility services.
Our team is welcoming anyone, individuals or organizations, interested in helping our initiative grow, to be able to plan and launch more solidarity campaigns, as this sector is in continuous need of support to keep providing its essential services, especially that we are today having a new strict lockdown.
Join our volunteer group on whatsapp: https://chat.whatsapp.com/KCCyxkIypNVAAj0F4B2M26
Meanwhile, we are working on a new project called “Together Against Corona”, aiming to protect drivers and riders from contracting the virus. More details will be revealed in our coming blog posts. So stay tuned!