“Capturing routes on a transport industry that doesn’t follow the same roads everyday or have a structured schedule is a challenge. But this is an even greater hurdle in a city where many are unaware of or refuse to acknowledge the informally-run industry’s place in the city’s public transport network.”
Learn more about the thinking that motivates us in this post on WhereIsMyTransport’s Interchange blog.
And so it finally happened, I found someone else who enjoys (and maybe needs) the bus system as a way of commuting (easily, calmly, punctually) throughout the city and further on. I was never keen on driving, I learned it late and never enjoyed it and had to stop it due to hearing issues (the problem with the hearing meant I could not anticipate what other drivers were going to do – my own driving even if not enjoyed was top notch). So what did I do? I went back to taking busses as I always have.
Read our guest-post on Beirut/NTSC — thanks Tarek!
“Au croisement Cola, le long de la corniche, à toute heure du jour et de la nuit, les bus à Beyrouth sont partout, charriant des effluves de goudron et de… jasmin le long de leurs routes aléatoires. Pourtant, une partie de la population semble fermer les yeux sur leur existence. Avec leurs plaques vermeilles pour la plupart fièrement illégales, leurs colliers de gardénias accrochés au rétroviseur, qui oscillent au gré des pirouettes des conducteurs, et leur application folklorique du code de la route. Au-delà du joyeux capharnaüm de leur organisation pour le moins pittoresque, des Beyrouthins ont décidé d’ouvrir les yeux sur la richesse cachée des transports publics de la ville : c’est la devise du collectif « Bus Map Project ».”
A big « merci beaucoup » to L’Orient-Le Jour for this gorgeous article!
The system is remarkably self-sustainable, even though it is almost entirely unregulated.
We loved sharing our bottom-up, incremental vision of infrastructural activism with The Daily Star!
What do you think? Are we “hiding behind our fingers” as one commenter claims?
“The mapping tool is just an opening for a needed change in activism. We need to advocate [for improvements in the sector] from the point of view of a bus rider.”
Thanks for the feature, al-Monitor!
“Though it sounds trivial, one of the main reasons the middle-class has notoriously avoided using Lebanon’s bus system is simply a matter of labels and maps. Where does this one go? Where are the bus stops? [..] What’s admirable about Lebanon’s millennials is that they aren’t naive to expect too much from public bodies and tend to proactively find alternative solutions.”
Thanks for the feature, Bananapook! <3
It’s interesting to reflect on the pragmatism that motivates us at a time when there’s a real chance that the same can-do spirit might make public policy more welcoming of our generation. Our vote is with all of you hopeful people. Good luck to us all!
Citizen Consultation Lebanon is an interesting initiative addressing civic rights and needs from a grassroots perspective, including the right to public transport, as seen in this legal briefing. Have a look to learn more about the root causes of the traffic crisis we are facing today, and make sure you also check out Legal Agenda’s earlier briefing (in Arabic).
At the same time, we would like to point out how little attention the existing transit network is given in such documents. This is a common issue; most people working on transport/transit in Lebanon have a very good idea about everything the state has failed to do, or has done badly, but the elephant in the room — the complex networks of people and places filling the gap left open by state neglect and mismanagement — is consistently ignored, downplayed, or put to one side.
We believe that the existing transit system is more than just a lack (“UNregulated,” “UNorganised,” “INefficient,” etc), a mistake, or an empty placeholder for something yet to come. It’s also more than a de facto reality we must contend with in order to promote change — it is a network of citizens just like us. Time to start talking.
As 2015 starts making its exit, and the various ‘Year in Review’ posts begin to proliferate, we are excited about what’s in the Bus Map Project pipeline in the coming months. We are buzzing with ideas and have several threads to follow up on after the holiday season, so this is a great time to reflect on the project so far.
Our modest proposal emerged during one hot summer of great anger and great hope in Lebanon. We have been insisting on doing things a little differently from what we’re used to, and it has been very encouraging to see positive and enthusiastic responses from the people we’ve met and interacted with along the way. It appears that the need for new approaches to incremental urban change is something that others can easily recognize—so, thank you! Thank you for coming along for the ride.
Since our ‘soft launch,’ we have enjoyed letting the project morph and adapt according to the connections we’ve made. In the coming weeks, we will be drawing on what we’ve learned to develop an action plan for 2016: to widen the circle of participation in the mapping process, and develop specific areas of focus based on the partnerships we’ve formed. We invite you to get in touch with us if you have any thoughts or concerns, want to work directly with us, or simply feel like a chat.
And of course, we will be updating you about our recent activities: what’s up with that bus route in Ghosta? What was the most popular route mapped by participating student-designers? How can you join our emerging ‘citizen design’ team? Answers to these questions and more will be coming soon.
For now, we wish you happy holidays!
Stigma is a major hurdle to overcome when promoting public transport in Lebanon. When we spoke to Tarek Chemaly of Beirut/NTSC, he urged us to make this a priority in our future campaigns.
Sometimes, the effort to overcome negative images of the bus end up reinforcing those images. When activists say that “the bus can be modern, not like what we have,” they justify their advocacy by stigmatizing existing populations.
When we say a bus is ‘dirty.’ what are we saying about those who use it?
Fear is another hurdle. In fact, it might be the bigger challenge, and hence, more of a priority for us. There’s the fear of the unknown and incomprehensible, which is what mapping would help alleviate, but there is also the fear of strangers, and the related and highly-gendered fear of harassment or violence. Sometimes, in our zeal for fighting stigma, we forget to take fear into account.
Many women are afraid to ride the bus because they are told to be afraid. Many are afraid because they’ve had bad experiences. This is a touchy subject, because these dangers are often inflated and mixed up with racist, classist and patriarchal ideas. Indeed, warning women about taking the bus is often just another way to control them. But this does not mean that public space in general does not tend to be hostile to the free movement of women. This is a Lebanese problem and a global one as well.
For all these reasons, we would like to invite you to share your experiences, both good and bad. The bus can be a joy to ride, but this is not always the case for everyone. We should tackle this issue head on. Comment, share, link us to your own posts, in any language you’re comfortable with.
It’s interesting to think about the gap between how little information about the bus system is known in certain circles in Lebanon, and how popular it actually is. In fact, some routes are currently “too popular,” with ridership surpassing capacity, leading to overcrowding as seen in this photo below.
This raises questions of safety, passenger rights, and operator responsibilities. It also points to a very basic paradox: why is this system so invisible to so many people in Beirut? We constantly hear surprise when we discuss our project; too many people simply have no clue that any system of mass transit exists. Why is that?
And what would it mean for the communities who rely of these networks if those of us who dream of more sustainable urbanisms engaged more directly with this actually-existing bus system?