مشوار عالسكة | A Ride Along the Rails

by Chadi Faraj and Jad Baaklini

في 1 ايار عيد العمال وبعد اكثر من 120 سنة على انطلاق اولى رحلات القطار من جسر الحديد في مار مخايل نظمت جمعية تران تران لبنان و جمعية حقوق الركاب (Bus Map Project) رحلة جديدة على نفس مسار قطار بيروت رياق , فأنطلقت 4 باصات عاملة حاليا على احد خطوط النقل المشترك في التاسعة والنصف صباحا لاعادة استكشاف مسار هذا القطار واعادة ضخ بعض الحياة في مقطوراته ومقصوراته ومحطاته المنسية والمهملة المخفيه بين ثنايا طرقاته وتلاله وبعض التعديات على املاك السكة التي حاولت ان تطمس معالمه وتكتم صوته الصادح. فوق هذا الجسر الحديدي… بدأنا بالتجمع وانتظار الجميع للوصول وبدأ التعرف على بعض من التاريخ المنسي والمهمل.

٤ سائقين يعملون على خط النقل المشترك دورة بعبدا تكفلوا بمرافقتنا ابو زهرا- وليد- فادي – ابو حنا، نساء رجال واطفال حوالي ١٢٠ شخص انطلقنا نحو أول المحطات، محطة بعبدا حيث تعرفنا  وشاهدنا السكك التي يستعملها القطار لصعود المرتفعات والتي صممت خصيصا لهذا المسار واستلم كل من أيدي والياس وكارلوس التعريف عن المسارات وتاريخ كل المحطات والنقل السككي. وزعنا الخريطة على الحاضرين ولفتنا الى اهمية النقل المشترك في لبنان وبعض المشاكل التي يعاني منها واهمية كسر بعض الافكار المسبقة عن القطاع الشعبي الموجود وخصوصا اليوم اننا قد استقلينا عينة صغيرة من الباصات العاملة على احدى الخطوط.

محطة الجمهور هي بجانب الاوتستراد طريق الشام وهناك التقينا المعلم ايليا وهو احد سائقي القطار في عز مجده وقد حدثنا عن تجربته والكثير من الاحداث والشخصيات التي عاصرها هو والقطار.

الى محطة عاريا المخبأة داخل البلدة واشجارها المعمرة والتي تلفظ روائح الماضي ومن ثم مرورا بمحطة بحمدون الى محطة صوفر و اوتيل صوفر الكبير الذي كان له دور كبير في استقبال كبار الشخصيات والعائلات للاصطياف من اقصاع الارض عبر استقلال خط بيروت الشام.

واخيراً وليس اخرا محطة رياق البلدة او المدينة التي كانت نقطة مهمة في وصل لبنان بخط دمشق واهميتها الكبرى على ما كنت تحتويه من مشاغل ومصانع لقطع القطارات وعن خبرات العمال واكتشفاتهم واختراعاتهم في بعض تكنولوجيا القطار في ذلك العصر الجميل. فعند وصولك الى رياق ترى اعداد القطارات والفاكونات والقطع والاقسام والتاريخ الذي يرسم على وجه كل مشارك فيتساءل الجميع اين نحن من هذا الزمن اقله لماذا لا يوجد متحف على الاقل يحتوي على جميع هذه التحف؟ او تساءل اخر لماذا لا يعود القطار على السكة بعد كل هذا التاريخ.

ان مشوار عالسكة ليس اولى الرحلات التي قمنا بها كمشروع ولكن دون شك انه من انجحها… وخصوصا اننا تشاركنا بتنظيمها مع جمعية تران تران.
لماذا المشوار ب الباص؟!

بدأنا بها ما يقارب السنتين برحلات صغيرة لعدد من المناطق اللبنانية مستخدمين خطوط النقل المشترك من اجل تعريف على الخطوط وكذلك تجميع المعلومات عنها وكسر بعض الافكار المسبقة عن القطاع والمناطق واننا نستطيع اكتشاف لبنان بالنقل المشترك اظهار وجود ترابط جيد بين جميع المناطق .

لقد زرنا بعقلين وحرشها والضيعة والمكتبة العامة واكتشفنا سويا بيت الدين ودير القمر بأستعمال احد خطوط الباصات الى الجبل من الكولا في احد الاحاد في ال2017.

زرنا صيدا اكثر من مرة مع اكثر من مجموعات صغيرة حيث تعرفنا على احياء صيدا القديمة وقلعتها البحرية والبرية وخان الصابون واكلنا اطيب الفلافل والسيندويشات في اسواقها دون ان ننسى الكنافة. ومن صيدا استقلينا خط صيدا جزين واسكشفنا جزين سويا من شلالها الى بعض معالهما وتمشينا بين احراشها واحراش بكاسين .

توجهنا في نهاية الاسبوع من الصيف الماضي الى صور وبحرها وقلعتها البحرية التي صدت اسكندر المقدوني الكبير التي بنيت على شبه جزيرة ومشينا في اسواقها القديمة والجديدة ومررنا ب مرفئها وزرنا قلعتها البرية التي تحوي على اكبر ميدان لسباق الخيل وتسبحنا في بحرها وقضينا نهار طويل على شاطئها .

ام مدينة طرابلس فلها الحصة الاكبر من زياراتنا فقد رافقنا وترافقنا في العديد من الرحلات الى المدينة الجميلة بأهلها وتواضعها مدينة الفقراء والاحياء الحية والمفعة بالحياة فقد زرنا جميع اسواقها وجوامعها وكنائسها وقلعتها الشهيرة ومينائها الجميل ومجطة القطار القديمة التي تنتظر احياءها .

واريد ان اشكر كل من رافقنا في جميع الرحلات او تطوع معنا وعرفنا على منطقته واعطانا من خبرته ووقته.

فأن كنت مهتم بمشاركتنا المشاوير اللاحقة او ان كنت تريد ان تكون مرشدنا السياحي أيضا في منطقتك او منطقة تعرفها انضم الى مجموعة واتساب

https://chat.whatsapp.com/GOb9SAGERgj7zolXjeI1fY

 

On May 1st, or International Workers’ Day, and after 120 years after the very first train to roll out from Jisr Al-Jadeed to Mar Mikhael, Riders’ Rights Lebanon (Bus Map Project) and Train/Train teamed up to organize a trip along this very same route — the old Beirut to Riyak railway line — through Lebanon’s existing public transport. Four buses took off at 9:30 AM, making a seemingly commute into a time of discovery, as we traced the old locomotive Right of Way and breathed life back into its neglected signs, stocks and stations, now forgotten and obscured among the hills and interstices of modern infrastructure — including those encroachments on railway property that attempt to cover up and silence the railway’s memory. On that iron bridge… we gathered and recalled forgotten history.

Four bus drivers who work along the Dora – Baabda bus line agreed to accompany us on this journey: Abou Zahra, Walid, Fadi and Abou Hanna. We were around 120 people in total — men, women, and children. Our first stop was the old Baabda Train Station, where we learned about the special tracks created especially for this line and journey, which is an elevated path. Train/Train’s Eddy, Elias and Carlos took turns to introduce us to different moments of Lebanon’s rail history, discerning the different routes in the old network. We distributed our bus and van map to all attendees and underscored the importance of public transport in Lebanon, highlighting some of the challenges the sector faces; we especially focused on the need to break some of the stigmas and preconceptions that people hold about Lebanon’s existing transit system, as people experienced a small taste of it that day.

Next, we went to the Joumhour Train Station, which is alongside the Damascus Highway; there, we let ma’alem Elliah, a former train driver during the golden age of rail; he shared with us his experiences, telling us about some of the incidents and personalities he encountered during his tenure on the tracks.

Afterwards, we went to Arayya Train Station that’s tucked away among the trees in town, with scents of the past wafting all around; then, to Sawfar Station via Bhamdoun. Sawfar Hotel played a huge role in the rail system, as it hosted large numbers of summer travelers and celebrities from all over the world, who flocked to the area via the Damascus-Beirut railway line.

Finally, we arrived at Riyak Station. The city of Riyak was an important industrial hub that connected Lebanon to the Syrian hinterlands; it also contained factories for building and dismantling trains. Riyak was a place where great innovations in local railway technologies were developed in the heyday of train travel. As soon as we arrived, you were struck by the number of engines and wagons and bits of rail history littering the area; the emotional impact of this landscape could be seen on the faces of every one of us. We marveled at how far we’ve drifted from this era of connectivity — we wonder why there isn’t, at there very least, a museum for these national treasures? Some also wondered why there aren’t any trains back on the tracks after all these years.

This journey along the tracks isn’t the first trip we’ve organized as a project, but it definitely was one of the most successful, thanks to our partnership with Train/Train. But why did we choose to go by bus?!

Over the past few years, we’ve been organizing small excursions to different regions of the country, introducing people to the public transport system in Lebanon. We did this to gather data and stories about the bus routes, but also, to challenge preconceptions about the transit sector and the regions it stitches together. Despite everything, there is still good connectivity across Lebanon.

We’ve visited Baakline — its Horsh, main town and public library — and explored Beiteddine and Deir el Qamar riding one of the many bus lines to Mount Lebanon from Cola, on different Sundays in 2017. We also visited Saida many times, with many small groups, where we explored the old districts, the sea fortress and traditional soap markets, and had the best falafels and kanafeh. And from Saida, we took a bus to Jezzine, where we visited its famous waterfall and other landmarks, as well as strolling through its forests and the green spaces of Bkassine.

Last summer, we also went to Tyre, where we enjoyed its old and new markets, its ancient hippodrome, and island-like sea fortress, that stood up against Alexander the Great; we swam by its shores and spent a wonderful time on its beaches. Tripoli got the lion’s share of our visits, as we accompanied many groups on excursions to this beautiful city, full of life and vibrancy, through its kind and modest people. We visited all its markets, mosques and churches, as well as its famous castle and port (Mina) — as well as, of course, its old railway station.

I want to thank everyone who joined us on these trips, and all who volunteered their time and expertise to help us discover their regions. If you would like to participate in a trip, or if would like to play the role of our tour guide in your part of the country, join our WhatsApp group.

#SpotTheBusMap!

It’s been a busy six months since we first launched our second edition Greater Beirut Bus & Van Map during Beirut Design Week; our team has grown, and our reach has spread. Have you spotted the map in the wild yet? After distributing it quietly in different cultural centers in Beirut, the team went out last Sunday to reconnect the map with its territory: the transit system itself! Big thanks to Alaa for all her help and summary below:

by Alaa Salam

It may have been a Sunday, but that didn’t deter the Bus Map Project team from taking some bus maps and heading out for work. Joining forces with the production team of Beirut Mini Maker Faire, we sat down for some map prepping. The aim was to hang up as many maps as possible on buses, from lines 2 and 12.

We moved out early, energized and prepared to take the challenge head on. We were met with an amazing, cooperative spirit from the bus drivers. In fact, some drivers came in and helped out! The head (“mas’oul”) of the bus lot even took 16 more maps to distribute amongst the remaining buses.

Afterwards, we took Bus Number 12 to Cola, where we took a van heading out to our next destination: Saida! 45mins and a couple of selfies later, the team reached the beautiful city. Encouraged by the great weather and welcoming bus drivers, we hung up an additional set of maps in Saida’s main van lot.

The Saida van lot drivers loved the Greater Beirut Bus Map so much that they inquired about the one for the South. We assured the drivers that the map is a work in progress — we will be working hard on getting it done! With their help, of course!

Feeling triumphant, we treated ourselves to some falafel and a boat ride around the islands. After such a successful day, we started heading back to Beirut, dreaming of bigger campaigns. But while on the road, we were surprised my messages from some of the drivers we’d met on line 2 and 12.

They were sending us photos of themselves with the map! Each of the drivers had taken a copy and expertly set it up in his vehicle — then posed with it! The drivers also expressed their deep gratitude to the team and congratulated them on such a wonderful effort. This was the biggest pat on the back the team could have received.

All in all, Sunday was a day to remember by both teams. But the real treat here is: can you #SpotTheBusMap? Stay tuned for additional news and a couple of surprises! From all the members of Bus Map Project, we wish you always have a great bus ride!

بين المنافسة والاحتكار في النقل المشترك

إن خط الدورة بعبدا لهو خط ما يقارب الخط الفريد من نوعه لخطوط الباصات في لبنان، وهو يجمع بين الباصات الخاصة الفردية وباصات الدولة أو ما كان يعرف بجحش الدولة. ولكن هذا لم يكن هكذا دوما، فقد مر بفترات حيث احتكرت الباصات الخاصة هذا الخط وفرضت ‘ريتمها’ وتوقيتاتها على الناسء فمن كان يتذكر هذه الفترة يتذكر كم كانت اطول اوقات انتظار الباص وكم كان يمتعض الكثيرين من الباصات وسائقيها وحتى قام الكثيرين بأيجاد حلول اخرى للتنقل كشراء سيارة أو دراجة نارية للخروج من جحيم الانتظار والتنقل.

ولكن قد يعلم الكثيرين أن ليس بأستطاعة الجميع شراء سيارة أو دراجة نارية وان الكثيرين رغم هذه التصرفات لا حول ولا قوة لها إلا بأستعمال هذا الخط السيئ الذكر. وان رغم معاناتهم في أعمالهم اليومية فهذا الباص هو الوسيلة المتاحة لديهم للتنقل بظل أوضاعهم المعيشية والوظيفية. فرغم العمل طوال النهار وتعبهم يفضلون حتى الوقوف في الباص للوصل إلى منازلهم وعدم التخلي عن الف ثانية من مصروفهم لاستقلال عتبة الرفاهية في السرفيس.

نعم فحتى السرفيس الذي يرفض الكثيرين دوس عتبته متمسكسين بأسباب السلامة العامة والنظافة و كثرت كلام السائق المهموم ومشاكله لا يفققه كثيرون.

فلنعود الى خط ٢٢ هذا الخط الذي يربط الشمال ببيروت وجبل لبنان فالجدير بالذكر أن باص الدولة الذي يعمل على الخط يحمل رقم ٩ حسب مصلحة سكة الحديد والنقل والمشترك الا أنها استبدلته بال ٢٢ لان هذا الرقم أصبح معروف عند الناس ففرض الترقيم الشعبي على الرسمي.

لطالما عرف مستخدمي هذا الخط ان مدة الانتظار قد ازدات وخصوصا بعد توقف خدمة باصات الدولة على هذا الخط فأصبح نصف الى ما يقارب الساعة انتظار الباص وهذا ما سمح السائقين الغير منظمين استغلال التوقيت لصالح الربح والاستغلال للخدمة.

الا ان الحال لم تكمل هكذا لان مصلحة النقل المشترك قد اعادت خدمتها على هذا الخط عبر باصين يعملان من الصباح الباكر الى الساعة السادسة. فبدأت المنافسة الشريفة والغير شريفة تتحكم بأنتظام التوقيت هذا ما حس الجميع على التنافس على الركاب وما جعل توقيت الانتظار ينخفض الى النصف واكتر فوجود اي منافس يدفع اي كان الى الاندفاع وتقديم الافضل. وهذه هي حال هذا الخط: التنافس اليومي بين باصات الدولة وباصات النمرة الحمراء وادخل الخط في دينامية جديدة تتقلب فترات بين تنافسية بشكل شرس وفترات تعاونية ومما يجعل التوقيت مستقر وسبب هذا الامر هو ان احيانا يكون صداقات او اتفقات بين سائقي باصات الدولة والسائقين الاخرين مما يجعل اليوم العمل للجميع سلس و احيانا تكون نوع من العدوات وايضا احيانا يتم الاتفاق بين سائقين الدولة وبضعة سائقين على رفاقهم كجزء من الصراع اليومي او جزء من الصراع للتحكم بالخط ونظامه.

فأهيمة هذا الخط ان ما زال بأغلب باصاته هي لسائقين فراده يملكون الباصات ويعملون عليها وهم يحاولون تنظيم انفسهم بأنفسهم ولا يملك احدهم غالبية الباصات الا ان من الحينة والاخرى يحاول بعضهم من السيطرة على الخط عبر ادخال سائقين جدد وباصات جدد لمحاولة اخضاع الجميع .

فهذا الخط يعاني من منافسة باصات الدولة التي رغم ايجابياتها احيانا الا ان باصات الدولة لا تستطيع ان تعمل على جميع الخطوط وفي اي مكان وذلك بسبب المحسوبيات والتوازنات الطائفية والمناطقية وقوة مشغلي الخطوط على هذه الاصعدة.
وما زال صامدون السائقين واصحاب الباصات ويحاولون تأمين قوت يومهم رغم كل هذه المنافسة ومحاولة السيطرة ويقدمون الخدمة بما يمكنهم وما يجدون وهي خدمة الناس في تنقلاتهم اليومية.

وبعد هذا العرض كله يغيب عنا وعن ذهننا دور الراكب وحقوقه ودوره في مطالبة الجميع دولة وسائقي النمرة الحمراء بخدمات افضل فلا تكفي المنافسة فقط في حماية القطاع والخدمات انما رأي وقوة صوت مستخدمي الباصات وردود الفعل لما تضمن التوازن بالخدمات والحقوق.

 

From City to Studio and Back: Design as Civic Action

To what extent is it appropriate to formally map an informal system? Can collective mapping help spark new ways of thinking about public transit in Lebanon? These are some of the questions raised by Bus Map Project’s participation in Beirut Design Week this year, when we launched our second prototype bus map of Greater Beirut and the alpha version of our online transit platform BusMap.me, a participative tool that seeks to crowdsource, clarify and spread information about the people, places, voices and traces of Lebanon’s transit system. Will you join us on board?

By Mira Tfaily and Jad Baaklini

 

June 23, 2018. Photo by Moussa Shabandar

 

 

Slow-Hacking Beirut’s Bus Map

Beyond the brute fact of mapping, Bus Map Project has always been driven by a desire to disrupt the traditional talking-points around public transport in Lebanon. Our project is patient and incremental because it insists on a fresh perspective on urban change. By making visible the range and regularities of our ubiquitous yet little-understood transit system, our map is trying to prove a point; it is advocacy by other means. And what it demands is that we start taking this transit system more seriously.

Yet, in doing so, the bus map tends to hog the spotlight as an artifact — a solid, already-accomplished matter of fact — pushing these motivating questions into the background, like any utilitarian tool eventually does. How, then, can we (re)turn the map, from an object of design, back to a matter of concern and a locus for civic action? How do we keep its point — its advocacy by other means — at the forefront?

More importantly, how do we keep this traffic flowing both ways? From tool to platform and back again, how do we break the silos between expertise and experience (design and ridership) to widen the sense of shared ownership to encompass as many civic actors as possible?

As part of Beirut Design Week, and in partnership with Public Works Studio through their Forum on Cities and Designers, Bus Map Project had the incredible opportunity to organize a workshop on June 23th, 2018, entitled “Slow-Hacking Beirut’s Bus Map.” The idea of “Slow-Hacking” — coined at first in jest by Public Works’ Monica Basbous — came out of our concern for making sure that this map that we’ve been lovingly piecing together, route-by-route, for a while, remains an open question: open to change in itself, and open by catalyzing debate over the cities we live in and reproduce every day. The word is meant to appropriate the can-do attitude of hackathons — that helpful sense of agency and confidence that we want to see more of in urban advocacy in Lebanon — while rejecting the less helpful sense of misguided urgency and false efficacy behind the fantasy of quick fixes.

Over the course of three hours, we attempted to prefigure the slogan recently displayed on the state’s own buses (“shared transport is a shared responsibility”), while inviting participants into our process. Through an interactive presentation, we shared Bus Map Project’s view of mapping as a form of activism — the kind that not only pushes for recognition of the existing system of transport now marginalized within the dominant doxa, but that also stirs up conversations about the mobile inequalities that traverse it.

We tried to keep our presentation anchored in ourselves, as riders and advocates. We shared the context of our own meandering journeys into the project: Chadi’s early development work in 2008, Jad’s research and activism interests in 2010, Sergej’s work with Zawarib in 2012, and Mira’s journalistic introduction to our work in 2016 before joining as a researcher in 2017. From this personal and collective perspective, a lot has changed since the seed was first planted when someone once said that creating a bus map for Lebanon was one step too far (because a map would legitimize something ‘substandard’). Today, very few people will argue that public transport doesn’t exist in Lebanon — the lacuna where it all began.

From that point of view, much of our work is done; thank you for tagging along, and we hope that by foregrounding the ordinary ways that our personal stories became entangled in the politics of this often-mystified thing called the city, this small project can serve as a case study that inspires you and others to adopt similarly incremental approaches to seemingly intractable problems.

From a wider perspective, however, our work has only just begun. And we need your help to keep moving forward.

Photo by Chadi Faraj

 

Whose Streets? Our Streets

The workshop participants came from diverse backgrounds (architects, GIS specialists, urban planners, graphic designers, etc.) but shared overlapping interests. We opened the session by asking everyone to share their understandings of, and experiences with, Lebanon’s buses. Some came to the event with a lot of experience riding transit; others were curious and wanted to learn more. Some had initiatives of their own, like a WhatsApp group to share information with newcomers on how to get around Lebanon by public transport and a “mobility transformation” Meetup.

This personal approach helped us keep the discussion rooted in the city as a lived experience, far from the technical abstractions that create artificial and disempowering distance between our reality as ordinary practitioners and the infrastructures we help reproduce every day.

To emphasize this idea, our presentation of the basic features of Lebanon’s transit system turned the usual definition of public transport on its head: instead of starting at ‘the top,’ drawing conceptual contours and differentiating ‘para-‘ from ‘-transit’ proper, we privileged the concrete reality of riders first: their flesh-and-blood facticity, their cosmopolitan diversity, their eyes looking directly into yours, demanding recognition and ‘equal access’ to visibility.

When we put things in this way, we swerve very close to romanticism. That’s fine. This is because the simple profundity of the person is the foundation of everything we do. From this understanding, we define public transport as first and foremost a transport public. From that, we branch out and begin to notice the spaces of conviviality that connect user to operator, bus to system, street to map. On this foundation, we clarify our shared stakes in combatting misinformation and stigma (that perennial problem that we mustn’t underestimate) and keeping transit advocacy rooted in real lives and livelihoods. Only then do we dare to offer definitions.

Lebanon’s transit system is best understood as a network of networks, gelling together along several spectra of agglomeration and ownership:

  • state-owned (OCFTC) ↔ municipally-owned (Ghosta, Dekwene) or organized (Bourj Hammoud)
  • corporate (Connexion, LCC, LTC/Zantout…) ↔ family businesses (Ahdab, Sakr, Estephan…)
  • route associations or fleets of a few owners with shared management (Number 2, Number 5, Van 4…) ↔ loose networks of individual operators (Number 22, Bekaa Vans…)

When our discussion turned to these concepts, a lot of debate was sparked, including a conversation on the controversial BRT system that we’ve blogged extensibly about. Hence, one consequence of taking the existing system seriously — people first, places second, conceptual categories last — is making the question of working with what exists (joud bel mawjoud) much more realistic and pressing. Why can’t we invest in existing people?

Connecting the Map to the City

After the presentation, everybody was invited to pitch in and make our map their own: What would they add? How would they represent informal landmarks? What changes would they propose to make the map more accessible?

Many participants thought that the Number 5 and Number 2 bus were the same, when the two lines separate at Sassine heading north. Misapprehensions like this point to the importance of involving more and more people from ever-wider circles in this collective project; indeed, the majority of us agreed that collective and incremental design can be a powerful language and tool for encouraging a change of mentality needed to shift our society towards more sustainable and just mobilities. June 23 was Day 1 of hopefully many more in this new phase in our project, and we will continually look for more ways to involve as many people as possible in the making and hacking of our collective output.

One tool we hope will facilitate this is our online participative platform (BusMap.me), launched during the workshop. It’s still in alpha development, but we’re so happy to finally make it public — a big thank you goes out to Chadi and our grassroots mappers for their hard work! BusMap.me aims to become a hub for crowdsourcing GPS data and annotating Lebanon’s transit routes with photos, tips and stories — material that can’t fit into a single, static bus map, but which is pretty much the essence of mapping our word-of-mouth urban geography, Lebanese-style.

The platform is imperfect and incomplete by design — and we mean it when we say that this is by design; we refuse to wear the crown of authority over this endeavor and proudly wave the banner of engaged amateurism in the city, with stubborn determination — because beyond mapping, the platform is meant to be an invitation for people to engage with shaping the system, contributing what they can to a collectively-owned map that celebrates the cacophony of voices that constitute Lebanon’s transit system. Think you can do better? Get in touch!

Our involvement in the Beirut Design Week continued on June 26th, 2018, when Sergej presented our work and his design process during a roundtable organized by Public Works entitled “Between City and Studio: Connecting the Map to the City”. Building on the previous participative workshop, he emphasized the activist role of the mapper and map designer. Every map is a collection of choices — deciding how and what to display influences the collective imageries and tropes that either challenge the established urban mythology, or, on the contrary, contribute to furthering the gap between urbanist discourse and lived reality. Mapping is and should remain an open question and we hope that more and more people recognize and join this political process that we are catalyzing.

Later that week, some encouraging signs of this happening emerged! We had the pleasure of attending YallaBus’s first meet and greet, where they facilitated their own participative discussion to debate the mapping of Lebanese bus routes, and presented the first version of their transit app. Taking inspiration from our work and building on our second prototype, YallaBus has started working on their own static map; during the event, attendees also came up with new and exciting solutions to face the challenges of mapping and visualizing an informal system.

We also took the opportunity to raise some questions about YallaBus’s release of the live GPS feed of Number 2 in Beirut. While we are excited to see progress in this live-tracking work, this beta release poses privacy and security concerns, since the location of buses (and, presumably, the homes of bus drivers) in the initial release was on display, potentially endangering the drivers. We are happy that YallaBus has been open to such feedback and look forward to seeing how their app develops.

We are also enthusiastic to see more events and gatherings of this type happening in the future. Let us keep catalyzing the change we want to see! Proactively, pragmatically, sometime’s poetically — our cities are ours for the (re-)taking.

Informal Transport–a Pioneer of Mobility-as-a-Service?

by Mira Tfaily and Jad Baaklini

 

From April 23rd to 25th, Bus Map Project attended UITP’s MENA Transport Congress in Dubai as part of the regional Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung civil society delegation. Walking around the expo and listening to discussions of futuristic machines and ambitious infrastructural plans left us feeling a bit disconnected from the lived realities and conditions of most people around the MENA region. And yet, we were very happy that, within this dizzying spectacle, the Transport Congress opened up a window to a world that we are very attached to and familiar with.

The Future of Transport?

As we briefly mentioned in a previous post, this year, and to our great enthusiasm, the UITP launched its first Informal Transport Working Group meeting, ever. As the inauguration of what is sure to be a very long discussion, this meeting featured much heated debate, from which we draw some preliminary conclusions: for the most part, the debate around informality in our region is framed within a push for more formality, such that the desire to better understand the informal is almost indistinguishable from the desire to change or “formalize” it. While we welcome any acknowledgement of the realities of transit systems as they actually exist in our societies today, we believe that the stakes are too high to rush too quickly into a “blind” consensus on formalization.

This debate, which left no disagreement untouched, including what to name these unregulated transit systems — informal? hybrid? paratransit? individually-operated? — was a crucial milestone that we are very honored to have contributed to in our small way. It is the beginning of a much-needed conversation in our region, after the informal has demanded a place at the table throughout the world –- and in this spirit, we ask, without presuming to know all the answers: to what extent is the formalization of these networks socially desirable, and to whom? Who is bound to benefit from it, and who is bound to lose? How can we ensure that the most vulnerable populations are not priced out or excluded in the process? And when will it be second nature to have the targets of our policies take part in our discussions from day one?

In order to begin thinking through this batch of questions, it’s important to keep in mind the broader context, and to raise a few more. The theme of the three-day Congress was “Pioneering for Customer Happiness,” which encompassed the two main emerging trends within the MENA transit conversation:

  1. a shift in emphasis towards thinking about public transport within the paradigm of MaaS (Mobility as a Service), thanks in part to the rise of more flexible and connected (or app-enabled) mobility options, like Uber and Careem;

  2. a shift in emphasis towards putting the satisfaction of the customer at the center of transit provision, with the rubric for achieving this happiness understood through the lens of “innovation.”

In other words, the customer is presented as being generally dissatisfied unless public transport providers start coming up with something new. It’s safe to say that this idea also takes its inspiration from the ‘positive disruption’ that services like Uber and Careem are seen to be providing.

These themes raise a few questions: is innovative infrastructure the solution to what’s at stake for MENA transit? Which customers and whose satisfaction are we talking about, exactly? Can we assume that we all have the same expectations? Can we achieve a socially-just happiness that would benefit all customers, when we are very likely to have diverging interests? And what are the implications of considering people who are mobile in our cities primarily as customers, in the first place?

We believe that answering this second batch of questions goes hand in hand with answering the first batch we raised, on the politics of (in)formality. We will expand on this idea in three moves:

I. Pioneering for Customer Happiness: Innovative Infrastructure or Creative Ways of Thinking?

“Customers are the core business of urban mobility.” The opening speech by Pere Calvet Tordera, president of UITP, set the tone for the next three days: a market-oriented vision of mobility that places the notion of customer happiness at the core of planning. To achieve this happiness, innovative projects in the MENA region were showcased throughout the Congress, including Dubai’s futuristic third metro line being built in preparation for Expo2020. It is projects like these that make us wonder what is motivating the push for transit innovation; to what extent do these impressive infrastructural developments meet the actual accessibility and mobility needs of the everyday practitioners of our MENA cities, and how much are their investments driven by a desire to increase a (global) city’s attractiveness, as a travel destination or as part of an international mega-event? The latter may (or may not) be fine in cities like Dubai, but what are cities like Cairo or Beirut supposed to learn from such projects? MENA cities facing multiple challenges have to make wise decisions about where and how to invest.

In the end, building fancier and shinier infrastructure will not bring us closer to the sustainable future we want if this infrastructure does not leave some room for daily usage and affordability within its core calculations, making sure that the most vulnerable populations — who are the bread and butter of mass transit — are not driven out by the gold rush. If we’d rather not call this social justice, then at least let us consider it common sense: why build something that ends up limiting the ranks of your target consumer? Relying on the changing tastes of those with the most purchasing power is not wise policy for systems that are supposedly challenging the king of convenience, the personal car. True innovation requires new ways of thinking.

II. Informal Transportation: a Precursor of Mobility as a Service?

Another key concept deployed throughout the congress was Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). As a market-based vision of mobility, it has the advantage of focusing on the user-perspective, and in so doing, offering more flexible or “adequate” services to the general public. With the arrival of ride-hailing apps like Uber or Careem, some public authorities have scrambled to make love not war by opening up channels of communication and partnership that rethink their very role as transit regulators. This is because these services are increasingly being seen as complementary — or, at least, not inherently antagonistic — to the work of the authorities, particularly when it comes to meeting the “Last Mile Trip” often left out by traditional transit. The logic goes as follows: Fixed-route services like buses typically provide low cost services that move high volumes and are always shared, but they tend to be slower and not always in line with (car-accustomed) customer expectations. Hence, “demand-responsive services” like the new disruptors are increasingly understood as friends of formality.

And yet, listening to MaaS being presented as a revolutionary concept sounded slightly odd to our ears. Indeed, the characteristics of these demand-responsive services are not that dissimilar to what characterizes informal transportation in our countries. Isn’t a service-taxi in Beirut “demand-responsive”? And what about the “flexibility” of Van Number 4 or Bus Number 5, intelligently adapting to traffic conditions without a GPS or traffic management control center to guide them. Learning to recognize these parallels and seeing the value of these services as flexible, demand-driven and resilient not only opens our eyes to untapped assets in our cities; it also forces us to wonder why some forms of “entrepreneurship” and “creativity” are framed as such, while others are not.

“But these informal services are not adequate!” we hear you scream. Yes, they do not meet all expectations, but just like informal transportation, MaaS is not a perfectly tailored, one-size-fits-all solution either — no, it drags with it an array of negative “externalities.” For one, MaaS services are not adequate for the customer who does not have a smart phone, let alone a credit card to load on their smart app. And, being market-based and demand-driven, they are more likely to leave out geographic areas that are not profitable, widening the economic and social gaps already striated by available (formal and informal) infrastructure. These issues will plague any unregulated service provision, but only some of these unruly operators are treated as worthy of reaching out to and bringing together, for the good of all. As the proverb goes (ناس بسمنة وناس بزيت), this is a very obvious ghee (samna) versus oil situation.

It should also be noted that in many cities across the world, there is a huge debate around the dismal working conditions of ride-hailing app “employees” — and even this word is contested — coining a new expression to describe a huge aspect of this innovation: the “uberization of work.” This problem is somewhat similar to the poor living conditions of bus and van drivers who run informal routes, who often work off the clock and in too many cases, are exploited by route- or fleet-owners. These parallels are not perfectly isomorphic, but the similarities should open our eyes to the way our public authorities can overlook the negative externalities of some operators when they’re backed by venture capital, but will not extend support to operators who may more directly benefit from partnerships. In any case, formalization must contend with these inequalities if we are to take our first crucial steps towards more cohesive, integrated, sustainable and just mobilities in our cities.

III. The Trap of Blind Formalization

As we wrote above, the true milestone set by this year’s UITP MENA Transport Congress was how informality was ‘invited in’ as a matter of thoughtful concern. This happened through two sessions: one on “Mapping and Understanding Paratransit/Hybrid/Informal Transport in MENA cities” featuring our friends from Transport for Cairo (Egypt), Ma’an Nasel (Jordan) and WhereIsMyTransport (South Africa), whom we’ve known for a long time but first met in person last October. These initiatives are doing a lot to make informal transport more legible in their respective cities, with a big focus on “big data.” We then participated with them in the inaugural UITP Working Group on Informal Transportation meeting, which took place after the official end of the Congress.

During the second session, there was a strong push from some friends in favor of dropping the term “informal” and replacing it with “paratransit,” as a less pejorative expression. While we welcome any language that shifts us away from stigmatizing views of informality, we do wonder if the “para-” in the neologism ends up re-inscribing the moral centrality of the formal in a different, though less aggressive way. Indeed, in countries like Lebanon or Turkey, where informal transportation accounts for 93.8% of transit, the word “paratransit” just sounds disingenuous. Para- to what, exactly? How can the majority sector be the marginal population?

This is a healthy debate. That engineers are open to debating semantics is an ironic surprise for us, as we have heard some in similar positions dismiss civil society campaigns on the topic of the urban as “all talk.” So we can argue for and against each term, and have since submitted some feedback on the vision and aims of the Working Group upon the organizer’s request. Yet, we want to end this post by cutting to the chase. Do we want to cosmetically re-brand the informal sector, or do we dare strike at the root of this whole debate: that informality is only a problem needing a top-down fix if we insist that cities are purely managerial objects most perfectly understood by technocrats; that people who live and make a living in cities are merely prisoners among shadows, limited by their simple lives and only ever apprehending approximations of the urban systems that engulf them; that planners and regulators and engineers have the absolute and final say over what goes on in our cities; that their expertise shields them from the democratic requirements that all other social actors are expected to submit to in plural societies–persuading the public, working with others, accepting compromise and actually innovating (generating the new in the here and now), as opposed to copy-pasting boilerplate solutions proven to turn a profit elsewhere?

These are the unspoken fantasies that underlie the politics of urban (in)formality. The basic human right of free and unencumbered movement from Point A to Point B is championed by all, and then squashed by the assumption that such freedoms are ultimately in service of the much larger and more important processes of governance, accumulation, and circulation. These are ingrained as ends in themselves, the only ends, perhaps. We denizens of cities are permitted to be mobile because we are the grease in these socioeconomic wheels. Our very existence in cities, it turns out, is a benevolent concession…

We are putting things very provocatively on purpose and for a reason, because it’s time for civil society actors involved in urban innovation and advocacy to decide on the point of their initiatives: is it to simply lubricate the policy machine? Or is it to challenge it, influence it, and maybe even disrupt it?

We are perfectly capable of being reasonable. We recognize that informal systems have dramatic shortcomings and externalities that need to be addressed, as pointed out by Kaan Yildizgoz, training director at UITP: problems such as the deterioration of networks, with routes emerging to pick up the most passengers, creating highly inefficient trips and poor working conditions of transit drivers, who are often under immense pressures from their higher-ups, etc.

And yet, formalizing the system without challenging our assumptions about the role of the state and the planner and the engineer would be an even more destructive move. It is also very likely to fail, because informality stems from endogenous characteristics of the state itself, such as unfair legislation, lack of enforcement and high rates of unemployment. To solve these “externalities,” we must first put them at the center. They are rather the “internalities” at the root of the processes that generate our discomforts about service adequacy. Formalizing the informal must be inclusive and fair. This can only be done through a comprehensive framework of social and modal integration that is rights-based, not concessions-based, and led by a genuine desire to leverage the skills and expert knowledges of planners and engineers for the good of all. Let’s lead the transition.




Banner image taken from UITP Facebook Page. All rights reserved.

ل بيعرف بيعرف ول ما بعرف بيقول كف عدس

 بإختصار يمكن توصيف واقع السائقين و العاملين على خطوط النقل الخاصة في النقل المشترك
من بعيد و كمواطنين او مستخدمين او ناس لم تطئ ارجلهم ارض الباصات نرى الاشياء من منظار مختلف لواقع العاملين في القطاع
البعض منا يراهم من المافيا ولا يجب التعامل معهم
البعض الاخر لا يريد ان يعترف انهم موجودين فيتجاهلهم
البعض يقول هذا عمل الدولة وليس عملهم ويطلب بتدخل الدولة وتنظيم الواقع كما يراه في دول الغربية او في نظرته للامور
وهناك البعض من الركاب يرونهم كسبب لتأخيرهم عن عملهم او مواعيدهم وخصوصا عند انتظار الباص ليمتلأ او السير ببطئ شديد ويرون فيهم استغلالييون وانهم يربحون الكثير من المال
ولكن لا يعلم الكثير منا خصوصيات بعض العاملين في القطاع فليس كلهم استغلاليون ليس كلهم من تدر عليهم الاموال الطائلة
وان اغلبهم يعيشون من اجل كفاية عيشهم و معيشتهم هم و عائلاتهم
فعندما تتكلم مع السائقين لاحد الخطوط تعلم انه يجب ان يعمل الكثير من الوقت لاجل تمكنيه من الحصول على مبلغ لسد السندات ثمن الباص و النمرة الحمراء لذا تراه يقاتل كل يوم نفسه و السائقين الاخرين من اجل الحصول على افضل نقلة ليتمكن من سداد القرض.فأنه سيقوم بما يستطيع من اجل تأمين مبلغ السند بالاضافة الى مصروف عائلته
فالالف التي قد لا تعنيك انها تساوي الكثير بالنسبة له لهذا قد نرى باصات ممتلئة وباصات بطيئة تلملم كل مار على الطريق تعتقده زبونا لها.
هناك سائق اخر تراه منذ الصباح يصرخ و يكفر ويتوعد اصدقائه ويسير ببطئ شديد املا الحصول على مبلغ اجار الباص فأنه يجب يعمل بجهد شخصين ليتكمن من سداد الاجار والحصول على مبلغ لقوته اليومي دون ان ننسى انه قد يكون لديه عائلة
في بعض خطوط الباص ترى السباق الذي يحصل بين باص و اخر من اجل الحصول على اكثر من الزبائن الممكنة فلذلك الامر لا يعنيك وانت تريد الوصول الى وجهتك .
عندما تتكلم معهم تعرف ان الباص هو شركتهم الصغيرة التي يعملون فيه و من اجلها وانهم لا يمكنهم التخلي عنها لان لا عمل لديهم غيرها
بعض الخطوط قد تجد مالك للباص يعمل عليه بنفسه وخصوصا بعد تقاعده من احد الاسلاك العسكرية فترى الباص لديه طابع لا يشبه كثيرا اقرانه فهو مرتب اكثر من غيره يحترم قانون السير بشكل عام يحافظ على مركبته ويحب النظام .هو ليس لديه هم الربح الكثير وما يهمه ان لا يخسر ما يسثتمر به
بعض السائقين اكثر ما يهمهم الضمان فأنهم اشتروا و استثمروا في هذا القطاع بسبب الحصول على الضمان له و لعائلته وقوته اليومي و خصوصا ان لا مجال اخر او مهنة اخرى لديه و خصوصا بسبب عمره فأصبح صعبا له ايجاد عمل اخر له في اي شركة او قطاع اخر
هناك بعض الخطوط وهي قليلة حيث يكون السائق نوع من الاجير اليومي فيعمل ويقبض لقاء عمله يوميا ما يكفي قوته وهو يكون مراقبا من قبل صاحب العمل في كل تفاصيل العمل من سرعته الى الركاب في مركبته الى التوقيت وما عليه الا بيع بطاقات اكثر ليحصل نهاريته مع الاستماع الى تعليمات المسؤول عن الخط.
يجب عدم شيطنة القطاع ونشر فكرة عدم فائدته و انه يشكل نوع من المافيات و العصابات بل يجب ان نراه من منظار اخر انه يخدم الكثيرين وبأسعار لابأس به وانه الاكثر استدامة فبغياب الدولة هم من كانوا يملؤون فراغ الدولة
انه قطاع يشبهنا يشبه مجتمعنا يشبه ناسنا وعاداتنا و ثقافتنا
انه نظام ذكي ديناميكي يستطيع التأقلم مع جميع المتغيرات و هذا ما ادى الى مقاومته جميع التغيرات والسياسات التي مرت عليه
انه نظام شعبي غير رسمي ساهم في تحول النظام الرسمي الى نظام شبه شعبي في عمله وخصوصا بعد تجربة خطة النقل المشترك في ال ٩٨ فأصبح بعدها هذا النظام الرسمي لا يعتمد مواقف الباصات وفقد التوقيت الدقيق للنظام الرسمي فتحول الى نظام شعبي رسمي تديره الدولة.
هناك الان تحدي جديد لهذا النظام وخصوصا بعد تأمين الاموال لخطة النقل الجديدة التي يمولها البنك الدولي عبر قروض ميسرة وتشمل نظام باص سريع بين خط طبرجا و بيروت و خطوط داخلية و خارجية في بيروت الادارية وبيروت الكبرى
فالاسؤال الذي يبادر الى ذهني هل سنشهد تجربة مماثلة في ال ٩٨ او اننا تعلمنا وماذا تعلمنا؟
عند اعداد الدارسة للاثر البيئي والاقتصادي والاجتماعي لمشروع الباص السريع كان لدينا الحظ في المشاركة في مجموعات التركيز (focus group)  للمشروع كمجتمع او مبادرة تعمل على القطاع فبادرنا الى توجيه الكثير من الاسئلة والافكار التي تدعو للدمج بين النظامين او حتى دعم اولي للنظام الموجود الذي يمكن ان يكون جزء من الحل وبتكلفة قليلة ويمكنكم متابعة عبر هذا الرابط

http://www.cdr.gov.lb/study/BRT/FINALESIAREPORTver1P1.pdf

فالى اين نحن ذاهبون الى اي نظام او الى اي نظامين هذا السؤال يبقى للمستقبل ويبقى تحدي جديد للنظام الشعبي.

“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!

Has the Existing Transit System in Lebanon Finally Been Recognized? / هل بدأنا اخيرا بالاعتراف بوجود نظام نقل شعبي و غير رسمي بعد ان كانت حتى النقاشات لا تذكره ولا تعبره؟

On October 25th and 26th, we had the pleasure and honor of being invited by Dr Tammam Nakkash to a symposium organized at the Order of Engineers and Architects called “Towards Organized Public Transport in Lebanon.”

في ٢٥ ت١ ٢٦ ت١ ٢٠١٧ ، لقد كان  لنا الشرف بتلبية دعوة من قبل الدكتور تمام نقاش للمشاركة في سيمبوزيوم في نقابة الهندسة في بيروت بعنوان ” نحو نقل عام منظم”.

We were first introduced to Dr Nakkash almost seven years ago, as a keynote speaker in an event called “Public Transportation, Public Concern,” where he lectured on all the necessary, institutional prerequisites to transport sector reform in Lebanon. The message he clearly articulated that day in December was that there were no apolitical quick-fixes to introducing new transport modes in the country, and in doing so — in calling for real “champions” of public transport — Dr Nakkash helped plant the seed for what eventually became the Bus Map Project in 2015. So for that alone, we are thankful for his interest in our work today.

كنا قد تعرفنا الى دكتور نقاش منذ حوالي السبع سنوات كمحاور رئيسي في مؤتمر “النقل العام شأن عام” حيث حاور بكل الحاجات الاساسية من قوانين واجراءات لاعادة الاعتبار للقطاع النقل واعادة تنظيمه. وقد اعلن بشكل واضح ان لا حلول سياسية سريعة –.
فبهذا، ومن خلال دعوته الشبابية ل “الأبطال”  في احياء القطاع، يكون الدكتور نقاش زرع البذور الاولى لما اصبح يعرف بمشروع خريطة الباص في ال ٢٠١٥. لذلك نشكر اهتمامه في مشروعنا اليوم.

The other important detail we remember from that day in Masrah el-Madina was a question posed by the only politician in attendance, MP Ghassan Moukheiber, who, after listening to the problems of congestion in Beirut and the bright visions of Bogota, politely yet firmly asked to hear more about the existing transit situation in Lebanon. The panelists had very little to say. One speaker admitted she had taken a bus in Beirut only once in her life, having vowed to never repeat it, because it was too slow.

الشيء الاخر الذي يجب ذكره عندما نراجع ذكرياتنا في مسرح المدينة هو سؤال من قبل السياسي الوحيد الذي كان حاضرا، النائب مخيبر، عن نظام النقل الموجود فعليا الان في لبنان، وذلك بعد استماعه لمشاكل زحمة السير والحل الذي حصل في بوغوتا وغيرها من المدن النموذجية. فالمحارون كان لديهم القليل ليقلوه حتى احد المحاورات قد اعترفت انها اخذت الباص مرة واحدة فقط في بيروت طوال حياتها وانها لن تعيدها مرة اخرى بسبب بطئ الباص.

Fast forward to 2017. The two-day event at the OEA began with a recurring leitmotiv that made us feel that plus ça change in the way that the “public concern” of public transport was conceived. “Detailed and updated plans to implement change in Lebanon have been studied for over 10 years,” we heard again and again, “but what has been failing dramatically is the enforcement and implementation.” From there, the different panelists and discussants focussed on the different ways to break through this institutional barrier of policy immobilism. Dr Nakkash’s presentation dove into more details about the causes of the status quo of stasis in Lebanon. Suggesting concrete solutions to address some very specific issues (e.g. architects and engineers who participated in the construction of buildings on lands owned by the OCFTC should be invistigated), he also highlighted one of the main problems of transit in Lebanon: the tie between transport funding and the government, that makes any plan correlated to possible institutional instability and lack of political will. This was one of the same prerequisites he had spoken about in 2010.

فلنعود الى ال ٢٠١٧ والى النهارين في نقابة الهندسة اللذان اعطا انطباع الى اعادة الاهتمام الى قطاع النقل من قبل المجتمع عامة والمهندسين والمختاصين خاصة. اكثر من عشرة سنوات ونسمع ان هنالك دراسات وخطط ومخططات للقطاع تدرس تعدل ولا تطبق. من هنا حاول المحاورون شرح ومناقشة السياسات التى جمدت هذا القطاع والعقبات التي وقفت في تطوره.

محاضرة الدكتور نقاش حاولت الغوص في تفاصيل هذا الوضع مقترحا حلول عملية لمواجهة بعض المشاكل (كأقتراح العمل على سحب تراخيص المهندسين الذين شاركوا في التعدي على املاك مصلحة الحديد والنقل المشترك). وشدد على مشكلة من المشاكل الاساسية للقطاع النقل في لبنان وهي الربط بين ميزانيات النقل والحكومة التي تعاني من عدم الاستقرار وعدم ايجاد الارادة السياسية لتطوير القطاع .وهذا ما كان صرحه في محاضرته في ال ٢٠١٠.

Nakkash elucidated how he had been suggesting for years a simple solution to the imbroglio of overlapping responsibilities between the OCFTC, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and the municipalities: the creation of a higher, centralized transit authority that would bypass the frustrations and disentangle the bureaucratic knots by having its own fund, separated from the government’s budget, which only conspires to suffocate projects at birth. One example he gave was the rejection of the BRT plans by the Municipality of Beirut: in his view, the presence of an independent transit authority would bring consistency to transit strategies.

نقاش صرح واعلن كم يعاني لسنوات من تضارب الصلاحيات بين الادارات والوزارات ومصلحة السكك الحديد والنقل المشترك والبلديات المسؤولة عن القطاع، وانه منذ زمن طالب بأنشاء هيئة مستقلة مسؤولة للنقل لديها كل الصلاحيات لتكسر البيروقراطية الموجودة وتتمتع بأستقلال مالي تستطيع من خلاله  تمويل طول  مدة مراحل المشروع، من التخطيط الى التنفيذ الادارة اليومية حتى لا تموت المشاريع في مهدها كما يحصل الان. واحد الامثلة الذي اعطاها رفض مشروع الباص السريع من قبل بلدية بيروت ومن وجهة نظره وجود الهئية المستقلة للنقل سيعطي قوة وتكامل لخطط واستراتجيات النقل.

LRT in Saida

While it was inspiring to see Dr. Nakkash’s tireless fight to save policymakers from themselves, the issue that was most pertinent from our perspective was his challenge to the mainstream definition of public transport that we often hear in casual and even activist conversations: “Public/Shared transport is not defined by the entity who owns it and operates it.” Rather, Nakkash argued that public transport is characterized by fixed routes, fixed stops, fixed schedules, and access for everybody in exchange for a fee. While this definition of public transport may seem to exclude Beirut’s existing transit at first glance, it certainly opens up much more room for understanding how this system fills many gaps — and hence, meets most criteria — of more formal systems.

ورغم كل الجهد الذي صرفه الدكتور نقاش في المؤتمر لمحاولة تبيان العجز السياسي والتنظيمي في منظومة النقل، الا اننا يهمنا بشكل خاص اظهار تعريف النقل المشترك او العام او العمومي حسب ما عرفه دكتور نقاش والذي لطالما كان موضوع جدل بين الناشطين في القطاع.

فعرفه بأن النقل العام او المشترك او العمومي و هو نقل لا يهم صفة ملكيته او تشغيله، اهو قطاع عام او خاص، انما هو النقل على خطوط ثابتة محددة مسبقا يتم الصعود والنزول في محطات محددة ويعمل حسب جداول و توقيتات معلنة واستعماله متاح للجميع الراغبين يشتركون مع غيرهم مقابل بدل مادي. وهذا التعريف لا يستبعد النظام الغير رسمي المستعمل في بيروت بشكل كامل، بل يفتح المجال امام فهم كيفية عمل هذا النظام وملئ النقص والحاجات للناس ولديه الكثير من النقاط والايجابيات

Using the example of the Van Number 4, which takes advantage of the unregulated environment to reach a dynamism that formal transport could never compete with, Nakkash called for the formalization of the line to a certain extent, and hence, acknowledged the need for planning for integration, and not exclusion.

إستناداً على مثال الفان رقم ٤ الذي استفاد من عدم وجود بيئة تنظيمة للقطاع والذي وصل الى دينامكية لا تستطيع الانظمة الرسمية التنافس معه فيها، دكتور نقاش طلب بأيجاد اطر تنظيمية لهذا الخط، والتوجه نحو الدمج وليس نحو العزل.

الاشخاص الذين يعملون على موضوع النقل المشترك في لبنان يجب ان يتعاملوا مع قطاع النقل الغير رسمي وكذلك في العالم اذ انها جزء من التحديات التي تؤثر على القطاع النقل والتنقل.

The people whose job it is to plan public transport in the MENA region and in Lebanon have to address the question of informality, as well as global challenges that affect transit and mobility everywhere. This is what Dr Ayman Smadi, former Director of Traffic and Transport at the Greater Amman Municipality and current Director of the MENA branch of the UITP, emphasized in his keynote speech. One of these challenges is the penetration of private companies like Uber or Careem in the transit market, a phenomenon that is more striking in a country like Lebanon, where transit is almost wholly run by private operators due to endemic state neglect. To what extent is it possible to create a holistic, national land transport strategy that integrates all the stakeholders from the public and the private sectors? The acknowledgement of the existing system is an obvious prerequisite, as well as a state vision that is transparent and which is as concerned with addressing sociocultural attitudes as it is on built infrastructure.

هذا ما تحدث به الدكتور ايمن الصمدي المدير السابق للنقل والسير في مدينة عمان والمدير العام للمتوسط في الاتحاد الدولي للنقل العام واكد عليه في مشاركته. واحد هذه التحديات دخول شركات الخاصة الى القطاع وخاصة اوبر وكريم وتأثيرها على القطاع خصوصا في لبنان حيث القطاع الخاص لديه اليد الطولة في تسيير الخدمات في ظل غياب الدولة.الى مدى نستطيع خلق خطة واستراتجية ناجحة تجمع كل الاعبين المساهمين في القطاع من القطاعين العام او الخاص؟ الاعتراف بالنظام الموجود هو خطوة مطلوبة واساسية كما رؤية الدولة مع الشفافية التي تواجه وتعالج االمشاكل الثقافية والاجتماعية لبناء البنى التحتية للقطاع.

Even though most panelists still saw our bostas, vans and minibuses as a temporary gap-filler that should be replaced, the fact of even acknowledging their existence in a setting like this was an important step forward towards integration. While seeing them as insufficient, Jad Tabet, presiding head of the OEA, listed these modes in the options available for citizens who want to get around the country: “There isn’t in Lebanon any choice for mobility except private cars, services, buses, vans.” Ramzi Salameh from the Road Safety Authority even took it one step further, encouraging the use of the actual existing system whenever possible.

جاد تابت نقيب المهندسين في بيروت صرح انه لا يوجد وسائل متاحة الان للاستعمال الا السيارة الخاصة,التاكسي والسرفيس والباصات والفانات وطلب بوجود انماط اخرى فعالة للنقل والتنقل .
وايضا هناك البعض من المتكلمين كانت ارائهم تتمحور حول قضية ايجاد بديل للنظام الباصات والفانات الموجودة الا ان ذلك نعتبره اعتراف بوجودهم وانهم يملؤون فراغ الموجود في القطاع بتقديم خدمات النقل وهذا اعتراف هام للدمج في المراحل اللاحقة.

As we pointed out in our presentation during the last panel, physical infrastructures and technologies alone are not sufficient for implementing sustainable change. This was further emphasized by Wissam al Tawil, president of the Scientific Committee of the OEA, who said that policies only oriented towards improving infrastructures are doomed to fail. The issue of transport in the country is not only technical, but cultural. The omnipresence of car culture was widely debated by MP Mohammad Qabbani, who is a member of the parliamentary workgroup on transport issues. Dr Christine Mady from NDU broke down the definition of infrastructure even further, dividing it into four categories: physical, social, institutional, and information/technological. Hence, a holistic shift in all levels is needed to re-orient urban development towards transit use.

” ليس في لبنان حالياً خيارات أخرى غير السيارات الخاصة سوى سيارات الأجرة والفانات والباصات، ولا يوجد اليوم خطة متكاملة لتنظيم وسائل التنقل هذه تسمح بالحدّ من الفوضى وباحترام معايير السلامة العامة”.
رمزي سلامة امين عام السلامة المرورية اخذ الموضوع الى بعد اخر بأستعمال النظام الموجود والعمل على تحسينه.

كم ذكرنا في مشاركتنا في المؤتمر البنى التحتية المادية والتكنولوجيا لا تكفي لتغيير مستدام وهذا ما اوضحه واكده رئيس اللجنة العلمية لنقابة الهندسة وسام الطويل، الذي قال: السياسات التي تتبع مسار تحسين البنى التحتية المادية هي تفشل دائما ولا يتخيل احد ان حل مشكلة النقل تكون بتوسيع طريق او مد جسور. والمشكلة في موضوع النقل ليست فقط تقنية انما ثقافية. هذا ما اوضحه رئيس لجنة الاشغال والنقل محمد قباني. الدكتورة كريستين ماضي من جامعة اللويزة فصلت البنى التحتية الى اربع اقسام: مادية،اجتماعية، تنظيمية، وتكنولوجية ودعت الى التحول الى التخطيط العمراني على شكل التنمية نحو العبور transit oriented development الذي يؤدي الى شعور الانتماء للمجتمع ويسهل الولوج الى الخدمات العامة.

In conclusion, we reiterate that the problem of (im)mobility in Lebanon cannot be solved through a set of top-down policies that keep ignoring the existing transit system and the daily livelihoods and reality of thousands of riders and workers that it represents. The OEA symposium has brought to the fore the obstacles preventing the implementation of a national transport strategy; but shouldn’t the first step for change be the use of the available and functioning transit system of the country?

في الخلاصة نكرر ان مشكلة النقل والتنقل لا يمكن حلها بسياسات تغيير فوقية تتجاهل النظام الموجود وحياة واقع الكثير من الركاب والسائقين العاملين في هذا القطاع، والذين لهم الحق في ابداء رأيهم ويكونو شركاء في القررات. وقد ابرزت الندوة في نقابة الهندسة العقبات التي تحول دون وجود استراتجية وطنية للنقل؛ لكن الا يجب ان تكون اولى الخطوات لها استعمال نظام النقل الموجود الفعال في البلاد؟

Dr Mona Fawaz from AUB closed the symposium on this note, with these very encouraging final words: “Decision makers need to be convinced by the culture of public transport. The main point that came out of these two days is that there indeed is an existing system and we need to use it when we can, because this is the first step towards change.”

الدكتورة منى فواز من الجامعة الاميركية لخصت السيمبوزيوم بهذه العبارات المشجعة: “المسؤولين يجب ان يقتنعوا بثقافة النقل المشترك. والنقطة المهمة بعد هذين النهارين هناك نظام موجود وندعو الى استعماله عندما نستطيع لانه هذه اولى الخطوات للتغيير”.

We hope to see more of Beirut’s transit champions riding the bus with the likes of us in the near future.

نأمل أن نرى المزيد من الأبطال في بيروت الذين يركبون الحافلة مع أمثالنا في المستقبل القريب



 

Symposium report prepared by Mira Tfaily, Chadi Faraj and Jad Baaklini

“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!

“Our transport is mirroring our society”—Reflections on the “Amman, Beirut, Cairo” Regional Exchange

by Mira Tfaily

Last week, five of us from the Bus Map Project team (Chadi, Jad, Mira, Haifa and Sergej) had the pleasure of participating in a Regional Exchange conference organized by FES Cairo and A2K4D around the question of transit and mobility in the MENA region. The conference brought together grassroots mapping initiatives and various stakeholders from the engineering, advocacy and research worlds from the MENA and beyond, to spark conversations, explore synergies, and engage in new creative thinking about how to work with the infrastructures and ‘infostructures‘ we find ourselves in. Though we had different perspectives and experiences, our shared aim was “making a shift from car-oriented cities to people-oriented cities” across the region. In this post, Mira reflects on some of the interesting points of convergence and tension that came up during the conference:

an unexpected encounter in the streets of Cairo
“The Lebanon Company for Mass Transit” — an unexpected encounter in the streets of Cairo

“A developed city is not where the poor have cars, it is where the rich use public transportation” — these words by Gustavo Petro opened the conference hosted by the American University in Cairo, in the iconic Oriental Hall of the historic Tahrir Square campus. The two days of discussion linked up stakeholders across the pro-transit spectrum. Panels included Dr Ayman Smadi, former Director of Traffic and Transport at the Greater Amman Municipality and current Director of the MENA branch of the UITP, and five transit mapping initiatives, big and small: Transport for Cairo, (Egypt) Ma’an Nassel (Jordan), Digital Matatus (Kenya), WhereIsMyTransport (South Africa/UK), and of course, our humble Bus Map Project representing Lebanon.

Much to our enthusiasm, actors from such different perspectives seemed to have reached very similar conclusions: to tackle mobility issues in cities where there are large gaps in transit provision, the most effective way for encouraging new patterns is to rethink our old, top-down planning tropes.

IMG_2725

As Dr Ahmed Mosa from MASARAT put it, a crucial shift is needed in public transport organization from a hierarchical to a network approach. This surprising language from an engineer and planner helped us see that there are openings for grassroots mapping initiatives like ours to enter the policymaking conversation. Our bus riders’ perspective becomes a policy instrument and a way to give birth not only to technical solutions but to deeply sustainable ones, rooted in incremental change and the gradual adoption of new behaviors.

As the subject of informality came up again and again, we were encouraged to challenge more and more the categories and frames that shaped what we believe to be true regarding our transit systems. Dr Jacqueline Klopp from the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University questioned the terminology used to describe the transit gap-filler: is it even relevant to call these buses and vans informal, when they are so ubiquitous and deeply embedded in society? And why is “elite-informality” tolerated, while the mobility practices of the poor are completely unacceptable? Mohamed Hegazy from Transport from Cairo suggested a more neutral term for informal transport — “paratransit” — but the question remains: what is at stake in holding on to language that neatly differentiates between centrally-regulated state-owned mass transit and privately-operated public transport?

We have always referred to the buses and vans we use and map in Beirut as “existing transit” for this very reason, and are happy to see more questions being raised about the categories we’ve inherited for understanding our cities.

A slide from our presentation illustrating how data and culture shape each other
A slide from our presentation

The obvious nature of “data” itself was also challenged and questioned. As Dr Sarah Williams from the Civic Design Data Lab at MIT pointed out, data is only useful when it is built into a tool that benefits the public. So how can we use the data collected to highlight inequality in access and service provision? Visualizing data through a map is a powerful way to stir up and steer the conversation about accessibility, for example, but are there other ways to turn data into useful information? This is a question also raised by Bianca Ryseck from WhereIsMyTransport, who said that, as an urban sociologist, developer-focused platforms aren’t always useful for her. While many stakeholders are interested in transit data to make smart planning decisions, it is important to remember that, as Jad put it, data is “a bridge but not an end goal.”

This is why, for our project, the way we do data collection is just as important as what we do with it.

If, following Chadi’s words, transport is mirroring our society, then as citizens, we have the direct power to implement change by shifting our behaviors. What are our rights and duties regarding mobility in our cities? Isn’t the least we can do to engage with the existing system to try and understand it better? We often quote Wim Wender in our presentations, so here’s another point to consider from a cinematic auteur: “Confidence is what you have before you understand the problem,” says Woody Allen — hence, unlearning our pre-conceived ideas about mobility will eventually help us realize that maybe, just maybe, our transit problems don’t lie where we think they do. We need to rethink our questions so we can work on answering them step by step, with more efficiency and more inclusiveness.

[editorial work and input by Jad Baaklini]