“Shared Transport is a Shared Responsibility”

2018 has been very busy for Bus Map Project, and it’s already almost May! It’s time for a catch-up post; we have a lot to tell you…

On January 6th, we held our very first #BusCommunity event in Hamra and had a lively discussion with friends and peers from YallaBus, H2 Eco Design and others from our network of collaborators and supporters. Later that month, we did a mini-collective map action in Tripoli, to familiarize ourselves with the city and plan for more mapping in North Lebanon. This was followed by our first foray into informal ‘guided tours,’ introducing people to Tripoli by public transport.

On February 5th, 12th and 13th, we presented our ongoing collaboration with H2 Eco Design at all three NDU campuses (Zouk, North, and Chouf) and received very good feedback from students and faculty. We were especially happy to hear a real commitment to public transport from the lecturer and FAAS coordinator at NDU Barsa, Dina Baroud! In between, we managed to find time to take part in Beirut Design Week’s Open House, — which we plan to follow up on in June! — and even do a few press interviews (Mayadeen and Al Araby).

How to summarize the purpose of all of this buzz and activity?

The photo at the top of your screen is a good start! Spotted by a veteran and friend in the sustainable transport scene in Lebanon, this slogan on an OCFTC bus very much captures the spirit of our message in 2018. It says: “Shared transport is a shared responsibility. Together towards an integrated transit plan.”

Cynics will argue that this campaign is an empty (and maybe even fiscally irresponsible) gesture that off-loads the state’s actual responsibilities towards the transport sector; while this may be true on some level, we welcome this shift in language, because it breaks the chains that people imagine to be essentially linking “public” to “state-owned,” and “private” to “corporate.” Shared transport is not just an odd Lebanese expression — it’s a potentially powerful concept that can undo a lot of false binaries and help us see the incremental changes already happening (that is, if we allow it to).

In this same spirit, April was the month when a significant milestone for informal transport in the Middle East and North Africa was set. We had the pleasure to be invited by FES to take part in their MENA region’s civil society delegation and attend UITP’s MENA Transport Congress (April 23-25), where two sessions on informality took place, and a working group on informal transport was inaugurated for the first time in the organization’s history.

Under the theme of Pioneering for Customer Happiness, the congress highlighted the concept of Mobility-as-a-Service (which is an idea that has strangely similar characteristics to our very own informal bostas and taxis, if seen in the proper light…), but above all, demonstrated the need for better acknowledging the way that informal transport can be a real partner in our shared responsibility to more fairly share our cities. We have a lot more to say about this, so for a detailed summary of the stakes and problematics emerging out of the push towards formalizing the informal, stay tuned for our next post!

CDR’s BRT Impact Report—One Step Closer to Inclusive Urbanism?

The CDR’s BRT impact report is finally out! Prepared by ELARD with input from EGIS, the document is quite a beast, clocking in at almost 400 pages. But it’s very readable, and it includes plenty of background for people who need to catch up on the basics of this proposed project. Many of you will be interested in the technical details, but in this post, we will focus on the socioeconomic dimension. If you have any thoughts about this or other aspects of the report, please do share them on our #BusCommunity discussion board.

We’ve been following ELARD’s track in this study over the past year, publishing several blog posts about the various focus groups and public consultation sessions they organized. And as much as we’ve enjoyed documenting this process, we’re also quite pleased to see our modest involvement documented in the report itself!

It’s a little bit surreal to see our work acknowledged in an official CDR study. On pages 244, 247 and 253, the report quotes some of our questions and feedback during the first public meetings. On page 249, ELARD focuses more directly on our coverage: “One of the special interest groups who attended the meeting are active in the public transport domain and have a website, an online blog, and two pages on social media (Facebook).” Showing screenshots of Facebook posts we’d made, the report links to our blog as well (“a good summary of the meeting proceedings”, “the second blog article focused on the BRT system and integration”). In their words, Bus Map Project “portrayed a general positive outlook on the merits of the BRT System and most importantly on the process of engagement of the public in the early stages of the study.” Sounds about right!

But what’s much more important than this tip of the hat is seeing our major concerns fleshed out in the impact assessment findings. In Section 7.11 on page 299 (“Impacts on Socio-Economic Aspects”), ELARD provides a table showing “the potential impacts and their respective consequence assessments” of the proposed BRT project. There’s a lot of different categories in this section, but given our focus on the existing transit system, we’ll highlight the measures we find most relevant to that topic.

Relevant consequence ratings range from “beneficial” (e.g. “SE.O.10. Local public transport development around bus stations to further serve commuters,” “SE.O.6. Creation of job opportunities including personnel with limited skills”), to “moderate” (e.g. “SE.D.1 Impact on other secondary public transport systems,” “SE.O.5 Difficulty in changing the behavior of people to stop using their cars and shift to the BRT system”). All of these challenges are obstacles to project success, but let’s focus on the only factor given a consequence rating of “critical”: “SE.O.1. Impact on livelihood of current bus drivers and public transport operators due to passenger shift to BRT.”

This critical matter is discussed in more details on page 301: “Currently, the public transport system in Lebanon is not regulated, where various buses, mini-vans and taxis serve the demand in a random manner in most cases. The existing public transport modes is a source of livelihood for many individuals and source of profit to private operators. The introduction of the BRT system will impact the existing services through the shift of passengers to a more regulated, faster and comfortable system. Hence, there will be a significant impact on the income and livelihood of the existing operators.”

ELARD BRT Report

While we’d take issue with characterizing the system as “random” (a characterization that is in itself based on a problematic distinction between SE.O.1. and SE.D.1; see below), we greatly appreciate the gravity with which the problem of operator livelihood is addressed and emphasized in several places in the report.

In Section 8 (p. 307), the consultants offer a Mitigation Plan, calling for further impact studies, or “site-specific ESIAs” that “should include” a “Livelihood Restoration Plan (LRP)”: “Inclusive of a detailed socio-economic baseline of affected bus operators and businesses subject to temporary disruption with detailed measures to mitigate risks and impacts arrived at through consultation with the PAPs [Potentially Affected Persons].”

Furthermore, the report describes mitigation measures already taken to address this problem (SE.O.1.): “The project has considered options and incentives to encourage local operators to join the new BRT and bus concessions. Such incentives include requiring the new concessionaires to buy or rent a number of existing red plates from the small operators, the recruitment and training of drivers, encouraging local operators to join as shareholders and partners into the new concessions, and allowing operators to continue operations along the new bus and BRT lines according to specifications (schedule, bus requirements…) agreed with the concessionaires and public authorities. Since it is expected that the project will contribute to increasing the overall demand for public transportation in Lebanon, new markets are anticipated to be created and new passengers attracted to the system. This will benefit local operators since not all trips and destinations will be covered by the new system and many new passengers will still need an additional public transportation mode to bring them closer to their final destination. The existing local operators are therefore expected to adjust their operations in accordance with the newly generated demand, resulting in complementary systems” (p. 49, our emphasis).

And this expectation isn’t completely left up to chance, as we feared would be the case, given how the problem of integration was initially discussed in the preliminary consultation sessions. To insure that these mitigation measures are successful, the report recommends that “the integration options…undergo further negotiations with political entities and syndicates and unions,” going as far as calling for monthly monitoring of impact based on “surveys of bus operators, taxis, mini-buses, etc. at areas impacted by the BRT service” (p. 347) conducted by Ministry of Public Works and Transport (Traffic, Trucks and Vehicles Management).

We wholeheartedly welcome this approach, and hope that both sides take seriously the need for cooperation. With recent shifts in discourse (see also), we are cautiously optimistic. At the same time, it’s worth pointing out how this “accommodationist” approach awkwardly negotiates an underlying tension between two different understandings of the city: the city as a project (designed, regulated, legislated), versus the city as a practice (emergent, patterned, lived).

On the one hand, the impact report deploys analytical and rhetorical strategies that still prioritize state-led initiatives, as seen in the way that impact source “SE.O.1” is separated from impact source “SE.D.1”. For the latter, ELARD writes that “the preliminary assessment of the project already considered the wider Land Transport Sector Strategy that has been recently developed by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MoPWT)…reducing the chances for any conflict with future public transport developments” (p. 312). This subtle splitting of “secondary public transport systems” into two categories re-inscribes a hierarchical distinction between the formal and the informal. Note how this is even reflected in the different languages used: the formal has “strategy” and “developments,” while the informal “serves demand,” has “operations,” and is “random.” We bring this up only to acknowledge the limits of the whole “paratransit”/”gap-filler” approach to informal transport, from our perspective — it’s greatly appreciated, but only in the sense that it tames state aggression.

Having said that, we concede that we would not really expect more than accommodation in a governmental study. Indeed, while there’s a lot more that can be said about the various mitigation measures recommended by the report with regards to BRT affordability, accessibility, etc. (see p. 350), within this single matter of concern, we would be remiss if we did not underscore how impressed we are by the inclusive spirit of this report. Taken as a whole, the BRT impact report very clearly recognizes that project success requires state willingness to work with and include existing transit actors as legitimate partners.

This central point is re-emphasized and placed in its wider social context in the conclusion (p. 388-389):

“The social impacts from the Project are the widest in breadth and depth, and they range from beneficial to the overall public to sensitive to the current operators of the informal public transport system. The beneficial impacts from implementing the Project will ultimately be realized and noticed through reduced travel time and lower overall mobility costs. There is a serious call from all social groups consulted as part of this ESIA study to implement a solution for public transport, where the system should respond to the needs of all groups – women, elderly, persons with mobility challenges, students, professionals, etc. The quality of the services of the BRT System is also of primary interest to all stakeholders. The need to have the public transport system organized and the level of services to be improved is a call to improve the quality of life of commuters on the overall. The integration of current operators in the new setup that will operate the BRT System is a vital strategy to reduce livelihood impacts from the competition that the new system will create. All the environmental and social impacts assessed in this ESIA Study can be mitigated if negative and enhanced if positive through inclusive and universal design, through responsible implementation, and through serious operation, maintenance and follow-up from the concerned institutions. Above all, there is a great need for more consultation and coordination among institutions and municipalities to realize the social and environmental benefits that this project is anticipated to bring”.

We sincerely hope that the CDR takes heed of these recommendations, as the participatory principles extolled in this report are the only real foundation for sustainable and socially-responsible investment in Lebanon’s transit system.

“They Call It Fawda, We Call It Familiar”

Often seen as a source of chaos, the informality that defines transport in Lebanon is for many users an added source of dynamism. A report released this summer by the Issam Fares Institute (IFI) of the American University of Beirut (AUB) demonstrated how resilience is built into informal systems, making them more responsive to the demands of the market and more flexible. At peak hour, the estimated waiting time for Van #4 in Beirut is two minutes, making it as dynamic as the Line 1 metro in Paris.

In the end, when it comes to mobility stakes in Lebanon, we are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Getting over our stigmatizing notions of informality will unlock the assets and capacities already available to us in Beirut. Anything less than a commitment to working with the existing system will leave us trapped in unethical and/or impractical imaginaries, like violently displacing the unruly system, or excessively longing for the Beirut of the past, or simply romanticizing the chaos.

Informality is not tantamount to anarchy. They call the system disorganized, we call it flexible. They call it fawda, we call it familiar. They call it inadequate, we call it real.

Since our time in Cairo, we have been greatly encouraged to see our ‘joud bel mawjoud’ approach resonating with people from very different urban settings. This has energized us to re-engage with “the mentality” back in Beirut, using any opportunity to drive home our message — a message perfectly summarized by Mira in this beautiful takedown published by Beirut Today.

And now, we’re beginning to see that message resonating here too! A key turning point in this journey was being invited to take part in a symposium at the Order of Engineers and Architects, where we were pleasantly surprised to hear openness to working with the existing transit system in a way that we had not been used to hearing before — especially coming out of the mouths of planners!

We will be sharing a summary of the OEA symposium soon, but here’s a sneak preview — a video of Mira’s contribution to final panel.

Thank you to everyone who has helped us make a dent in the seemingly-impenetrable armor of the dominant discourse!

Covering ‘Cola’: The Collective Bus Map, Summer 2017

by Mira Tfaily

This summer, Bus Map Project gathered a team of volunteers from AUB with one aim: tracking as many of the bus routes that originate from Beirut as humanly possible. In this past month of August, we drew our focus on the Cola hub, a well-known transit intersection in the capital, to list and track all the routes departing from there in a grassroots and organic way. The ultimate goal of this collective mapping action is to produce a map pieced together by individual transit users so that more people get to know and trust this dynamic system of buses in Lebanon.

This is Ali, a driver we met while scanning the hub; he drives the oldest bus in Cola, dating back to 1973.
This is Ali, a driver we met while scanning the hub; he drives the oldest bus in Cola, dating back to 1973.

To the eye of the novice, getting around the Cola intersection can seem like an impractical imbroglio. However, as soon as one starts opening her eyes and engaging with riders and drivers, the entangled web of routes becomes almost limpid — maybe even enjoyable. To palliate the deficiency in state organization, the informal transit built its own tanzim, with bus stops for every route, coordination between different lines that pass through the same cities, and sometimes even set timetables.

To get a sense of the full scope of the hub, our first step was to collect routes by word-of-mouth, or more specifically, word-of-twitter. We then went to Cola one morning and engaged with the drivers and riders to actually “scan” the hub, to get a clearer understanding and list all the routes originating from Cola. Once our list of almost 30 different routes was organized, our Collective Map Action truly began: the team of volunteers started tracking the routes and criss-crossing Lebanon to gather not only geographic data (i.e. point A to point B), but also facts on sizes of fleets, timetables, frequency of trips and prices of tickets.

For as little as 1500LL, the Collective Map Action provided us with a unique opportunity to (re)discover some beautiful — and less beautiful — places of Lebanon, and simply enjoy the feeling of drift and lull that takes over when one rides the bus only for the sake of discovery.

Sara and Sirene tracked a van tracing the route from Cola to Choueifat to Khalde, and back again. Here is part of that journey:

Cola to Chouiefat [Sara and Sirene]

Rashad went on a trip from Cola to Baakline:

Cola to Baakline [Rachad]

And Ali traced his way to Aramoun and Qabr Chamoun:

Cola to Aramoun/Qabr Chamoun [Ali]

Here, the first difficulty arose: while there indeed is a regular van that ends at Aramoun, the drivers often continue to Qabr Chamoun when some clients want to get there; this is what happened the two times we tried to track the van, raising the question: to what extent is it possible to produce a formal map that faithfully reflects a truly informal system? And shouldn’t this informality, instead of being seen as a lack of organization, be considered a dynamic and flexible vector of increased mobility? The design challenge is an exciting one, as any map worthy of reflecting Beirut needs to figure out how to communicate these nuances.

Interior of the bus going from Cola to Debiye
Interior of the bus going from Cola to Debiye

While the team prepares to wrap up Cola and track the last few obscure and infrequent routes, the Collective Map Action of this month also forces us to think about the trap of romanticization. Whenever we explained to drivers that we were riding buses only to figure out where they went, we were met with amused and startled glances, and even a little bit of “mesmerization” — particularly when we admitted that we quite enjoyed the rides; one female passenger on the Number 13 noted that “it’s because you do it for fun, you’re not stuck every day in two hours of agonizing slowness and traffic during your commute.”

While a major “edge” that our team has is that we indeed daily users of buses for commuting or for travel, this was a gentle reminder to be careful about exoticizing or objectifying ‘bus culture,’ and to keep in mind that public transport is always primarily a fulfillment of a basic economic and social need, and not some kind of privileged surrealist experiment.

Finally, this month brought to the fore the real value of privileging a grassroots approach to mapping, instead of conveniently having one single person track all the routes. While a collective approach is harder to manage, organize, and takes more time to build up momentum for, this methodology benefits from diverse perspectives, insights and experiences, and contributes to creating a map that reflects the realities of as many riders as possible. This, in turn, works to open up a conversation about broader social and developmental issues.

#HerBus: ‘Seeing the City with New Eyes’—Sara and Sirene

Earlier this year, we launched a series on women’s experiences of public transport in Lebanon, which we opened with a post about ‘first impressions.’ This summer, we are leading a Collective Map Action with a group of students, some of whom have never taken a bus before. Here’s the story of two new bus riders:

 

How Can Public Transportation Curate your Perception of the City?

by Mira Tfaily

Of all the reasons that could push someone to climb into a Lebanese bus, one of the most fascinating is curiosity. This is the motive that led Sara and Sirene, two AUB landscape architecture students, to take part in the Bus Map Project’s summer mapping initiative as volunteers. With the academic background they are bringing with them, the two young women reflected on the way their first-hand experience as bus riders has shifted their perception of the city:

“We took Bus 15 from Ain el Mreisseh — we weren’t sure where it was heading, so we decided to stay on the bus, to see if it would take us back to Ain el Mreisseh. We had to take another bus at Dora; the whole trip took us 2 hours,” they explained, as they told me about their very first bus ride. Taking the bus without knowing where it was going became a new way to marvel at things they usually pass by without noticing. From this perspective, public transportation can be a way to awaken curiosity, raise new questions and imagine new answers.

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“Usually, we travel the city by car or by walking. We had some misconceptions before taking the bus; mainly about danger and uncertainty. However, now that we have taken it, our prejudices have somehow vanished. It’s really easy and affordable to use. It isn’t particularly dangerous for a woman to use. You always have to be careful — not because you’re in a bus, but because you’re in Lebanon.”

Sara and Sirene still see that lack of information is the main problem regarding buses. “We were asking riders for information. Most of them did not have any idea regarding the final destination of the bus, but rather, they knew that the bus would pass by the place they were going to.” However, by choosing to go beyond this uncertainty, the two volunteers subverted their lack of familiarity with the whole system into a new way to poetically apprehend the urban environment we all are entangled in.

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Their second trip was much more ambitious, and saw them taking a van from Jnah to the Bekaa Valley. This experience allowed them to think of and speak about the bus as a truly public space, appreciating the social diversity that is ‘consubstantial’ to their own being. Buses are part of the urban environment, but they still remain invisible to a large part of the population that knowingly or unknowingly chooses not to see them.

“I don’t think we have a culture of the public space in Lebanon. Moreover, there are a lot of stigmas attached to taking public transportation. Change will come little by little. Taking the buses and learning to see them with new eyes is the first step to amelioration.”

And curiosity is the first step of that first step of understanding these invisible yet ubiquitous buses that shape the urban life of a silent part of the population. Get curious, and start taking part in this latent conversation.

 

20 Kinds of People You’ll Find on the Bus in Lebanon

As integral but somewhat underappreciated public spaces, Lebanese buses offer the city lover a rich and multi-layered slice of urban life. The bus is not only a mean of transportation: it is a place of social mixity and multi-culture that sparks conversations across class, gender and national background. Commuting in a Lebanese bus is a window to a gallery of unique and yet relatable personalities. Scroll down and let’s see how many of them you’ve already spotted! And let us know if there are any we’ve missed.

 

 

20 kinds of People You’ll Find on the Bus in Lebanon

by Mira Tfaily

 

1. The Old Habitué

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He knows every driver by name, remembers the time Beirut had a tram (riz’allah), and feels entrusted with a mission to convince the driver to take every shortcut possible while complaining about traffic.

 

2. The One That Sits Up Front –

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Often mistaken for the Habitué, this guy may or may not be a regular rider. In fact, he may only get on board if that front seat next to the driver is available. An aspiring DJ, he ensures Shiraz is playing on the stereo at least 5 times every hour. A brilliant multi-tasker, he manages the money handed to the driver and turns the AC on and off every half an hour, whether the windows are still open or not.

 

3. The One That Sits at the Back –

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He is alone, he is manspreading so wide that my teta could sit between his thighs, and he does not want to be bothered. Not to be confused with #6 (see below).

 

4. The One That Does Not Sit –

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Usually a man, he takes pride in his chivalry and amazing balancing abilities, and will end up crushing your feet. Some day, he will convince the whole bus to start a dabke to “Jenno Notto” while going full speed through Hazmieh.

 

5. The AUBites – 

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Once difficult to spot in the wild, now often found in the legendary Van Number 4 (“it’s so in right now”), they blast their own music regardless of the dabke already playing in the bus. The driver will usually give up after ten minutes and the whole van will be bouncing over Kendrick Lamar’s new album (“Sit down. Be Humble”).

 

6. The Beach-Bound Teenyboppers Between Dora & Jbeil – 

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They sit at the back, Instagram-ing every time the bus stops, and have started drinking from their Jagger flasks at 11 am. Think that #12 and #13 are yiiiiiii, 7araaaaaam.

 

7. Those Two or Three European Backpackers – 

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They are more at ease with Lebanese public transportation that you will ever be. They have a Zawarib Guidebook in hand, comfy Birkenstocks and overstuffed backpacks that take up a whole seat, and their faces are liberally caked with sunscreen. #1 and #2 will compete over who has the best directions from the mafra2 closest to their destination.

 

8. The Regular 9-to-5ers (a.k.a. The “Zboun”) – 

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You don’t know what kind of mysterious agreement they have with the driver, but he will wait for them if they are not at their usual spot at the usual time. An elite subset of this group is the Hyper-Zboun: they are so in tune with Standard Bus Time, the whole system is thrown in disarray if they are not present at that exact spot, at that exact time.

 

9. The Hipster Who Carries his Skateboard in the Bus – 

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He does not look or talk to anyone, acts as emotionally detached as possible, but when Fares Karam comes up, he can’t help but follow the rhythm with his fingertips on the window. He’s thinking of starting a blog about bus stories.

 

10. The Journalist on Bus Number 16 –

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Usually headed to L’Orient-le Jour and always late, she carries an unread book and speaks in French on the phone during her whole trip complaining about the noise on board. Likes self-referential narratives.

 

11. The One Who Doesn’t Pay –

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Often a cop or a soldier, sometimes bolees baladiye, sitting alone. He is side-eyed with a mixture of admiration and curiosity by the driver and other passengers.

 

12. The Beauty Queen – 

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AKA “ghanoujet el bus,” she is wearing stilettos, she knows every driver, and she is allowed to sit wherever she wants. You do not know where she is headed, but she makes a point at approaching every woman on the bus to ask her about the reference of her lipstick or the address of her hairdresser.

 

13. The Beiruti Casanova – 

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AKA “jagal zameno,” this man is a local, and a harmless romantic that sees public transportation as a real life Tinder experiment. He will be frightened by your annoyed look and will sit alone for the rest of the ride, probably pondering about Plato’s theory of soulmates in The Symposium and other existential questions.

 

14. The Posh Tante – 

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She climbs in at Ashrafieh, wraps herself in her fur and mumbles to her massive dog Stella in French during her whole trip. Complains loudly about how slow the bus is whenever she gets a phone call.

 

15. The Sunday Communion of Saints – 

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They are all migrant domestic workers on their one day off, on their way to their diverse denominational churches, like St Francis Catholic Church in Hamra, or the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Ain Aar. Despite their linguistic and religious backgrounds, they are united by their common experiences with the “misters” and “madams” of Lebanon, and their shared love of Dora weekend shopping. They play musical chairs and change seats at every stop, never missing a beat in their passionate conversations.

 

16. The Sleeper Agent – 

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Party-goer or work commuter, you do not know how long he has been asleep and whether you should wake him before he misses his stop. He usually emerges from his half-coma at Cola and leaves the bus swearing, before immediately taking another bus in the opposite direction.

 

17. The Marlboro Man – 

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Fidgets at every stop and thinks that sticking his cigarette outside the window is just the right amount of consideration he can offer his fellow passengers. Locked in a glaring war with the Syrian driver while pretending to not see the sixty No Smoking signs throughout the Lebanese-owned bus.

 

18. The Sweaty Banker – 

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Some say this man is a myth, but one or two bank employees have been spotted in the wild. He is wearing a suit and tie, instantly elevating the sophistication of the whole journey. Often seen sipping a tiny plastic cup of muddy coffee.

 

19. The Undercover Driver – 

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A friend of the actual driver, they exchange seats when one is tired or feels like handling the music, or when one of them doesn’t have the right paperwork.

 

20. The One that Pays for the Group – 

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He drops money likes a 90’s R&B music video and leaves the change to the driver. Dolla dolla bill y’all!

 

 

Main photo by Johnny Hchaime

Collective Mapping: A New Way of Reclaiming Public Space?

How can a map become a tool to change your perception of urban environment? The Bus Map Project has been asking this question for two years now, trying to build support for a “Collective Mapping Action.” Last summer, we distributed a small batch of a prototype map of Beirut showing bus lines pieced together route by route by the small team. This summer, BMP has grown to include nine volunteers who are criss-crossing Lebanon for the second expanded edition of this map. In doing so, the team is not only participating in a civic service, shaping a map of public transportation that will benefit all potential users; they are also helping move the project to the collective level it was always intended for.

 

Collective Mapping: A New Way of Reclaiming Public Space?

By Mira Tfaily

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Turning every bus rider into a bus tracker, the idea of “collective mapping” represents a pragmatic approach to city systems that leverages daily life and first-hand experience in the service of cartography.

Sara and Sirene are two AUB Landscape Architecture students taking part in Bus Map Project’s collective mapping initiative this summer. “We had never taken the bus before, mainly due to the lack of information. So far, we rode it only twice, but it has completely shifted our misconceptions,” they explain enthusiastically.

By giving people their initial reason and motivation for riding the bus, Bus Map Project hopes that collective mapping can help get rid of the fear and uncertainty surrounding Lebanon’s non-formal transit system. In turn, mapping the system with diverse others can help open up spaces for new perceptions, patterns and behaviors. As the team put it in their first meet and greet sessions with volunteers: “Mapping is a tool. Community engagement is the point.”

The ultimate aim, then, is to build a broad community of bus riders who are passionate about improving the system through incremental and accumulated effort. That way, every bus user becomes a bus mapper and story teller, and is personally invested in shaping the collective vision of their city.

This approach transforms the idea of the map from a compartmentalized and technical design process best left to experts, to a collective conversation involving as many actors as possible, shaped by experience and not theory. Whether you are a student, a worker, a tourist or simply a curious wanderer, mapping Lebanon’s bus system collectively is a way that re-frames you and your environment along the way: one the one hand, a shift from being a consumer to being a (co-)producer, and on the other, a move from a major problem — of traffic, of chaos, of lack of regulation.. — to a great potential.

Maps are political, maps are sociological, maps tell stories, and above all, maps reflect choices: the choice of what you decide to mention in it, and what you leave unsaid. Instead of wondering why we don’t have a bus map in Lebanon yet, let’s join together and steer this conversation. So, how can you be part of the initiative?

1) Download a GPS tracking map for your smartphone (examples: Open GPS Tracker for Android, Open GPX Tracker for iOS, Gaia GPS for Android and iOS, Trails for iOS, etc.). Make sure it has the capacity to export GPX, KML or KMZ files.

2) Get on a bus at its point of departure.

3) Hit record on your app, and make sure your signal doesn’t drop as your ride a bus from beginning to end.

4) Email your file to hello@busmap.me with some background about you and your journey.

 

Bus Map Project is not only collecting routes: we’re collecting voices, experiences, stories… And we cannot wait to discover yours!

#HerBus: رحلتي مع الباص—Nada’s Story

We wrap up our #HerBus series — but not the larger conversation — with this sweet reflection by Nada on her time in and with the bus. Nada’s story raises the question of what we can do to stop the pressures of routine and urbanism from forcing us to become ‘mismatched’ with public transport in Lebanon today.

Is the car our only alternative? Can transport infrastructure learn to grow and adapt to our needs, as much as we learn to grow and adapt to its rhythms and logics?

* * *


…رحلتي مع الباص دامت ثلاث سنوات متتالية من ايام الجامعة و اكملت الى ايام العمل

.كان للباص فضل اذ كان الوسيلة النقل الاكثر امانة من غيرها

.كان طريق الباص مناسبا جدا اذ من بيتي الى طريق خمس دقائق سيرا على الاقدام و حتى من العمل

نشأت مع الاعوام صلة مع بعض شوفير الباص ..اذ ان هناك من صار معتبرا نفسه ملتزما معي كالتاكسي و كان ينتظرني حتى اطل من المفرق عند ساعة السابعة و كذلك بطريق العودة لا ينطلق بدوني

و لا انسى المعاملة اللطيفة من البعض معتبريني كأني ابنة لهم حتى ان مكان جلوسي كان محجوزا مسبقا

و في شهر الورود و الغارينيا كان يستذكرني بوردة مع كل صباح فينعش نهاري .. و ما اجمل الصباح مع ورد يفوح منها العطر الذكي فتتفأول بنهارك

لا تعتاد فقط على سائق الباص كذلك على الاشخاص فابدأ تدريجيا ان تكتسب صداقات و تترافق معهم و تلتقي بهم فتكون الصبحية و يمر الوقت و تنسى العجقة داخل الباص و خارجه

.فيصبحوا رفاق الدرب و يتفقدونك و يحجزون لك المكان ان نسي السائق

حتى انه في بعض الاحيان تتطور الرفقة الى صداقة ثم الى تقارب و احباء

و الجميل هو ان بعض السائقين لديهم حس راقي في الموسيقى فيروزيات صباحا و وديع صافي و صباح و حتى الاجنبي فهو يهذب أذاننا بدل زمامير العجقة و مع غياب الرفيق

و لكن مع مرور الوقت و لان العمل متعب و تقضي اوقات اضافية لاسف لا تعود تجد الباص من بعد ساعة معينة و لان اصبح دوام العمل متأخر و لأن الوقوف بالليل في الشارع ليس آمن خاصة كفتاة بدأت ابحث عن بديل و بما ان التاكسي ليس آمنا ايضا فالحل كان ان اشتري سيارة

هذا الحل بات الافضل من عدة نواح كفتاة و لتريح الاهل من الهم

افتقد كثير من الاحيان الى الباص و خاصة بهذا البلد و عجقة السير و قلة المواقف و لكن متطلبات و ظروف و عدم تجهيز البنة التحتية للباص تجعلك تتخذ البديل


Megan Barlow


My journey with the bus lasted three years, from my university days to my days of employment…

I preferred the bus because it was the safest mode of transport.

The bus route was very convenient, as it only took me 5 minutes to walk to it from my home, and it was close to my workplace as well.

Over the years, a connection was formed with the bus driver.. Some of them even began to regard themselves as obligated to me, like a taxi, waiting for me until I emerged from the side road at 7 AM, and not leaving without me on the way back.

And I cannot forget the kindness of those drivers who saw me as a daughter, going as far as reserving my seat for me.

And in the months of roses and gardenias, I would be greeted with a flower every morning, energizing my day.. and how beautiful is the morning when the fragrance of a rose fills the air, brightening up your day..?

You don’t only get used to a bus driver; you also get used to other people, and begin to gradually make friends who you accompany and meet for a morning chat [sob7iyeh] that passes the time and helps you forget the crowdedness both inside and outside the bus.

So they become your companions, and they ask about you when you’re not there, and they keep a seat for you if the driver forgets.

In fact, sometimes this companionship develops into friendship, then greater intimacy, then love.

And what’s nice is that some of the bus drivers have a sophisticated taste in music, playing Fayrouz in the morning, and Wadih Al-Safi and Sabah, and even foreign music as he refines our ears so that we do not listen to the honking of traffic, or to substitute for a missing friend.

But as time passes and work becomes more tiring and you begin to work overtime, you unfortunately start to miss the bus after a certain hour, and as you work even later, waiting on the street at night becomes unsafe, especially as a young woman. So I began to look for an alternative, and because the taxi isn’t safe either, the solution was to buy a car.

This was the best solution from different perspectives for a woman, and to give my parents peace of mind.

I miss the bus from time to time, especially in this country, with its traffic jams and dearth of parking spots, but duties and circumstances and the lack of public transport infrastructure forces you to choose the alternative.

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Photos by Megan Barlow, taken during our Bus Map Photo Action last summer. English translation by BMP.

#HerBus: “Fais-moi découvrir Beyrouth!”―Garine’s Story

Today’s #HerBus story is a special one! We first met Garine when she took part in our Bus Map Photo Action last summer and captured way more photos than our modest CFP required. We chatted and picked her brain about cities and culture and identity, and before we knew it, she left to pursue her graduate studies abroad, where she developed her “Al Bosta” design project — a branding concept that brings to life a vision that we at Bus Map Project have been calling ‘joud bel mawjoud’, or excel through what exists. We’ve enjoyed following Garine’s work over the past months, and are happy that she took the time to share her thoughts and reflections on this bus adventure.

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How to take the bus in Beirut? from Garine Gokceyan on Vimeo.


J’utilise souvent les transports publics, que ce soit les bus ou les services. Pourquoi je les utilise? Parce qu’ils t’emmènent partout où tu veux, tu n’as qu’à t’asseoir et profiter du moment. Ah oui, j’ai oublié! C’est aussi parce qu’ils sont presque gratuits!

I often use public transport, whether it’s buses or shared taxis. Why do I use them? Because they take you wherever you want; you just have to sit down and enjoy the moment. Oh yes, I forgot! It’s also because they cost almost nothing!


"The Bank" by Garine Gokceyan
“The Bank” by Garine Gokceyan


Souvent je prenais le bus pour aller d’un point A à un point B, mais pour les jours de Bus Map Photo Action, c’était comme si je disais au chauffeur “amène moi quelque part, n’importe où! Fais-moi découvrir Beyrouth!” — je n’avais pas de destination exacte.

I’ve often taken the bus to go from point A to point B, but during the Bus Map Photo Action, it was as if I were telling the driver “take me somewhere, anywhere! Let me discover Beirut!” — I did not have an exact destination.


"Optical Illusion" by Garine Gokceyan
“Optical Illusion” by Garine Gokceyan


D’ailleurs ce n’est pas une légende quand on dit que les libanais sont des gens chaleureux, curieux et qui adorent être pris en photo. C’était vraiment marrant comme expérience!

Moreover, it’s not a myth when we say that the Lebanese are warm and curious, and love to be photographed. It really was a funny experience!


"The Romantic" by Garine Gokceyan
“The Romantic” by Garine Gokceyan


À force de prendre plusieurs bus dans une même journée, j’avais remarqué que chaque conducteur avait son univers personnel. Chaque bus avait sa propre décoration, sa propre musique, son propre esprit, ses propres peluches… On sentait la touche originale de l’artiste-conducteur qui nous invitait à voir Beyrouth dans un cadre particulier.

En fait, tu rentres dans le bus et tu en sors avec pleins d’histoires à raconter!

Since I was taking several buses in one day, I noticed that each driver had his own personal universe. Each bus had its own decoration, its own music, its own spirit, its own stuffed animals… One could feel the original touch of the artist-driver who invited us to see Beirut in a particular setting.

In fact, when you get on the bus, you get out with plenty of stories to tell!


"Fetish" by Garine Gokceyan
“Fetish” by Garine Gokceyan


J’imagine ce jour où la circulation serait figée à Beyrouth, pleins de voitures dans les rues l’une derrière l’autre, toutes bloquées. Et le seul moyen qu’ils auront, pour enfin avancer, serait de faire bouger les voitures une par une depuis Saida.

I imagine the day when all circulation in Beirut is frozen, the streets full of cars, one after the other, everything blocked. And the only way that they can move forward, would be to budge the cars one by one from Saida.


"Al Bosta" designed by Garine Gokceyan

En quelques mots, je voudrais avoir le choix de mes transports à Beyrouth et non pas être imposé à choisir le transport en voiture.

In short, I would like the choice of how I get to Beirut, and not be forced to choose the car.

"Al Bosta" designed by Garine G.


J’espère que les gens verrons dans mon projet l’idée de l’initiative.
Une initiative individuelle pourrait peut-être inciter une collectivité à agir, à penser à améliorer leur condition de vie.

Ne pas attendre le gouvernement à se bouger, mais faire nous même bouger le système, bouger la circulation.

Et un jour, on pourrait même se dire: fini les “zammour”, fini l’embouteillage, fini la pollution… un jour.

I hope that people will see the idea of the initiative in my project. An individual initiative could perhaps encourage a collective to act, to think about improving their living conditions.

Do not wait for the government to move, but rather, let us move the system ourselves, making traffic move.

And one day, we could even say: no more “zammour” [car horn], no more traffic jams, no more pollution… one day.


"Red is ready" by Garine Gokceyan
“Red is ready” by Garine Gokceyan


Un bus est un grand véhicule de transport en commun, ce n’est ni un monstre vert qui dévore les gens, ni un bateau mystérieux qui passe par le Triangle des Bermudes. C’est vrai que parfois ça peut ressembler à une boîte à sardine et j’avoue ça peut être gênant mais dans tous les cas on a la possibilité de réagir et mettre fin à tout circonstances inconfortables en demandant à la prochaine de s’éloigner.

Pour résumer, Il faut arrêter de croire à ces histoires d’horreur qu’on nous raconte sur les bus et les van. Il faut juste essayer! C’est jamais trop tard de prendre un bus, il y en a un qui passe tout les 6 minutes.

A bus is a large vehicle for shared transport, it is neither a green monster that devours people, nor a mysterious boat that passes through the Bermuda Triangle. It’s true that sometimes it can look like a can of sardines, and I confess that this can be annoying, but in any case, one has the ability to respond and stop any uncomfortable situations by asking the person next to them to move.

In sum, we must stop believing in these horror stories that we are told about the buses and the van. You just have to try! It’s never too late to catch a bus, there’s one that runs every 6 minutes.


"Al Bosta" by Garine Gokceyan

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All photos and graphics by Garine Gokceyan. Text translated into English by BMP.

#HerBus: الفوضى والفلتان—Lynn’s Story

Today’s #HerBus story is troubling and bleak, and some of the conclusions it draws are controversial. While it is not a first-hand account, we thank Lynn for sharing her thoughts and reflections on the experiences of Lebanese women on public transport, because the fear of violence and exploitation that she expresses is real and pervasive. Scroll down to read our translation of Lynn’s story.

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لطالما كنّا ندرك سابقاً ان الامن اللبناني غائب عن الساحة المحليّة، وقد تسبب هذا الغياب بتفشّي ظاهرة خطف المواطنين من امام مسكنهم او حتى خطف القاصرات من خارج المدارس في بعض المناطق كما بات معلوماً في الآونة الاخيرة

هنا سأسرد واقعة حصلت مع رفيقتي حيث أخبرتني اذ انّها كانت في أحد الأيام بإنتظار باص ليقلّها من جسر الكولا الى جونية حيث اعترضها شابان وبدءا يتحرشا بها لفظيّاً ويٌسمعاها كلام بذيئاً. وعندما تحاول كل فتاة الوقوف بقرب رجل الأمن يلحق بها من كان يضايقها غيرآبهين لوجوده. ويصل الباص وهنا الخطورة الكبيرة حيث تكون هذه الشابة الانثى الوحيدة في خضمّ مجموعة ذكور ينهالون عليها بالنظرات وكأنها حوريّة في بحرالعسل فتعيش الشابة حينئذٍ ليس فقط خوف داخلي انّما رعب شديد من هؤلاء. وما تلبث رحلة الوصول الى المنزل بالانقضاء يحاصرالفتاة رجلين او ثلاث ويحاولون الاعتداء عليها لفظيّاً علماً ان السائق لا يفتح فاهه لربما اعتاد على هذا النمط من الالتماس او انّه يفضّل تجنّب التورّط معهم

يتحوّل الباص من الساعة الواحدة ظهراً حتّى التاسعة مساءً الى شريعة غاب تسود قوّة الرجال داخل حافلات النقل العام وما من رقيب ولاحسيب. تعيش الفتاة اللبنانية اثناء تنقّلها ذعراً لا مثيل له، مما ينعكس سلباً على حياتها النفسيّة اولاً وتفقد ثقتها وعزّة نفسها ثانيةً ومهما كانت هذه الفتاة جبّارة ستصل الى مرحلة تشعر فيها بالانحطاطٍ والتعاسة، علماً ان بعض الشابات اليافعات تقعن ضحيّة هذا التحرّش ليؤدّي بعدها في بعض الحالات الى استغلال جسدي وجنسي ولا ندري اين يودي بها لأمر معها في النهاية الى حالات إكتئآب، امراض نفسيّة او حتّى الإنتحار في بعض الحالات

وهنا، لا يسعنا سوى ان ندق ناقوس الخطر في هذا المجال لجهّة ما يتسببه هذا الفلتان الامني واللا اخلاقي في وسائل النقل العامّة بحيث اصبحنا نرى انّ المواطن اللبناني يشكّل ما نسبته 15% من مستخدمي قطاع النقل هذا امام 85 % من الاجانب. فالانسان الطائش العديم مسؤليّة يرتكب الفوضى فتقع الشابات اليافعات ضحيّة الاستغلال. كثرت في السنوات الاخيرة قوانين لحماية المرأة من كافّة العنف الّا ان هذه القوانين ليست سوى حبر على ورق، ويجدر الذكر ان الذين يسيؤون للمرأة ويتعدون عليها لفظياً يحسبون انّ القوانين لا تطالهم ولا علاقة لهم بالقوانين المطروحة

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We have long known that security is missing from the scene in Lebanon, a situation which has led to a string of kidnappings, with citizens and even young girls taken from in front of their homes and schools in some areas of Lebanon, as we have heard stories about recently.

I will relay a story that happened to my friend, who told me how she had once been waiting for a bus from under Cola Bridge in the direction of Jounieh. While waiting for the bus, two young men began to verbally harass her, and say rude and inappropriate things to her. And when the young woman tried to stand closer to a police officer, her harassers continued to bother her, as though the officer was not there. When the bus arrives, the real danger begins, as this young lady is the only woman in a crowd of men, assailing her with their eyes, as though she is a mermaid [or angelic being, hooriya] in a “sea of honey”; this makes her very afraid, on a very deep level, as she begins to feel terror among these men. And as her journey home was coming to an end, two or three men began to assault her verbally, while the bus driver did not open his mouth, perhaps because he was used to this kind of behavior, or because he preferred to avoid getting into trouble with them.

From 1 to 9 pm, the bus is ruled by the law of the jungle, where the power of men prevails inside public transport vehicles with neither censure nor accountability. The young, Lebanese woman experiences a kind of fear without parallel as she commutes; this, firstly impacts her mental health negatively, and, secondly, leads her to lose her confidence and sense of self-dignity. No matter how resilient she is, there will come a time when she feels miserable and depressed. In some cases, some young girls fall victims of the kind of harassment that leads to physical and sexual assault, which could lead to serious emotional and psychological problems, and maybe even suicide in some cases.

We have to sound the alarm on this lack of security and morals on public transport, a situation that has led the Lebanese citizen to make up only 15% of the riding public, while the other 85% is made up of foreigners. Irresponsible people create chaos, which pushes young girls and women to fall into exploitation. Laws protecting women from all forms of violence have increased in recent years, except that these laws are nothing but ink on paper, and it is important to note that those who mistreat and verbally harass women believe that they are above the law.

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This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting the unique and complex experiences of women who use public transport in Lebanon. Photo by Rachel Burnham, taken as part of last summer’s Bus Map Photo Action. Rachel writes: “What endears me to riding the bus as a timid foreigner was the way that I was always graciously offered a seat, no matter how busy the bus or van.”