Learning to Use Lebanese Buses, One Trip at a Time—a #RiderStory

by Jad Baaklini and Mira Tfaily

Lack of information is the main obstacle stopping many people from using public transport in Lebanon. This issue, and the fact that this gap in public knowledge has too often been filled with simplistic myth or exaggerated legend, is the raison d’être of our project.

But overcoming this obstacle, in our view, is not just a matter of taking on the role of the cartographic “Godot” we’ve been waiting for; Bus Map Project has been and still is stubbornly insistent on pushing the problematic beyond the quick-fix mentality: if you’re interested in riding the bus in Lebanon, you can either choose to remain an outsider, or you can take a leap of faith and engage with the system to learn about it first-hand, route by route, journey by journey, contributing to a collective map that isn’t dropped from the sky, but rather, has been laboriously tended to, and is chock-full of living history.

Today’s #RiderStory introduces Clément, a French hiker who shares our zeal, and who has taken it upon himself to figure out the system at its very fringes. Building up a library of experiential knowledge, Clément has been sharing his discoveries and tricks on his hiking website, as well as contributing to our collective mapping process. In this post, we reflect on his learning as a way of better expressing our own.

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« The Lebanese bus system can seem difficult to access for neophytes, but once you start asking people on the ground, it can be figured out smoothly and little by little. My first time in Dora as a foreigner was quite an experience, but now I get around very easily there, » Clément explains. His first experience taking the bus was on a well-known route, the very busy Dora-Byblos line. He then started exploring lesser-known routes, learning about the system empirically and piecing together the bigger picture route by route. « I was surprised by how little information there is on public transport in Lebanon. One good way of seeing if the system is understandable to outsiders is to see whether foreigners are able to access it or not. I noted that the routes going from Cola to the South and Dora to Tripoli are indeed used by foreigners -– who hear of them by word-of-mouth -– but the rest of the routes are pretty much used only by locals who need the buses to reach their villages or workplaces. »

Clément’s reflections bring up a very interesting “epistemology” or theory of knowledge for a city like Beirut. We often say that our project attempts to make Beirut “more legible,” which is a word that evokes a very visual, or even textual, way of engaging with the city. It’s the kind of engagement described in Kevin Lynch’s “The Image of the City”, a classic in the urban literature. In it, Lynch talks about the « highly imageable (apparent, legible, or visible) city [as] well formed, distinct, remarkable; it would invite the eye and the ear to greater attention and participation…Such a city would be one that could be apprehended over time as a pattern of high continuity with many distinctive parts clearly inter-connected. » We hesitate to try and analyze Beirut by this definition; at the very least, we’d double and triple underline the “over time” part of that sentence. Instead, Clément’s observation of how Beirut’s transit system is gradually apprehended by outsiders through word-of-mouth is an important reminder of the fact that visual representations of a city — like mapping — will miss a lot about how a city like Beirut actually functions. Even Lynch admits that there are other properties in “beautiful environments,” like « meaning or expressiveness, sensuous delight, rhythm, stimulus, choice » — these are aspects of urban life that are too easily sacrificed when the issue of public transport is reduced to a problem of “lack.” As Jenny Gustafsson once wrote in a popular article on ‘mapping Beirut-style,’ « Maps, when functioning well, become an extension of our knowledge » — to which, we add the important caveat: maps can also easily become dysfunctional if they crowd out or colonize other ways of knowing.

Clément’s empirical discoveries allowed him to develop tricks to make the most of the system, and speak in the urban vocabulary and grammar more fluently: « In Dora for example, it is better to stand further from the bus stop and hop on a bus that is already on its way, rather than waiting at the bus stop for a bus to fill up and go. » Another clever strategy is to take a van rather than a bus when going to a far-away place like Tripoli: they fill up more rapidly than buses and hence will go straight to the final destination without stopping every few kilometers to pick up clients. What map can teach you that? Quoting from Jenny’s article again, it is important that transit solutions in the Middle East take seriously the way that MENA cities are actually put together: « It’s about learning how a city works. There’s usually a very clear order; you just have to understand it. »

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After getting in touch with us, Clément started volunteering his time for Bus Map Project exploring new and obscure routes, tracking the Cola-Niha line for example, among others. « I think it is a challenge to map the informal system because here people are used to orienting themselves differently, with landmarks rather than streets for example. The only map I was able to find was the Zawarib one for Beirut buses. However, I found it quite difficult to use; it looked like a metro map and some routes were outdated, » he explained. The predominance of the metro-style or “Tube map” is not just a matter of aesthetics; it is a deliberate choice to represent the city in a very particular way, one that sacrifices much too much cultural nuance for the sake of supposed clarity and visual appeal. One of our friends who produced a transit map in another city in the region once lamented to us how little their highly-schematic map was being used by the general public, saying that « people here aren’t used to reading maps » — we’d turn that problem on its head, and say, instead, that people here aren’t used to valuing how people here actually are (think, live, and get around). Mapping MENA-style is indeed a very real but worthwhile challenge.

Among Clément’s repertoire of urban tactics was learning to avoid congestion by deftly choosing internal versus external routes to get around faster; for example, hopping on the external Bikfaya-Dora line to get from Sin-el-Fil to Dora. These are tricks that can only be learned over time. « Lebanese people are often surprised when I explain that I take the bus; I’m guessing the lack of information available contributes to unnecessary stigmas such as danger or violence, which is very far from the truth, » he reflected. We’d add that the lack of information is also an opportunity to contribute more intentionally to the city-making we are always already part of — Clément’s tips and tricks are urbanism, no less important for shaping the city than any engineering blueprint or national land transport strategy.

Clément's watch, that he uses to track the bus routes
Clément’s watch, that he uses to track the bus routes

Sensing that he is contributing to something larger than himself, Clément started a hiking website to share his transit discoveries. « I am a hiker and I wanted to explore Lebanon by myself, but I quickly figured out that all hiking websites took it as a prerequisite to have a car to get to the trails. So I started tracking the bus routes I would take using my watch and uploading them on my website. » By documenting his experiences with routes, precise information and pictures, he encourages and equips wanderers of all kinds to experience Lebanon differently. « I am just sharing the information I would have liked to have had when I arrived here in January. The website of the Lebanon Mountain Trail is very complete but does not display any information on how to get to the trails by public transport. The travel agency Living Lebanon gathers some useful routes, but not all of them; it’s the same for the WikiLoc portal. » While a lot of hikers in Lebanon go on organized group tours where everything is taken care of, Clément’s sharing of information is an invitation to explore, learn and document more individually and freely. And in doing so, helps us connect the dots between two engaged, but previously-disconnected communities that #LiveLoveLebanon in the city and beyond.

Are you a transit rider? Do you want to contribute to our project? Email us at hello [at] busmap [dot] me

“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.

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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]

خبرة نسوية تقاطعية في استخدام النقل المشترك في لبنان

ميرا طفيلي:

“حلو جسمك”, “شو اسمك”, “وين بيتك”, “في منك ع جالو”… هذه وغيرها من العبارات الغير مرحب بها وهي قد تكون جزء من التجربة اليومية في المساحات والاماكن العامة للنساء في لبنان.

هذه الاعتداءات الصغيرة او البسيطة كم يبادر لاذهان البعض ترسم اطار دينامكية التنقل للنساء في المدينة ,ويجب اخذها في الاعتبار عند التخطيط لنقل اكثر استدامة في بيروت.

في الواقع ان الخوف من التحرش هو من اولى الوصمات المرتبطة بالنقل المشترك اليوم, وهو خوف يمنع الكثير من النساء من استخدام الباص. ان تجارب النساء في ركوب الباصات, تتأرجح بين هذا الخوف المستمر والمبالغ فيه والحقيقة المحزنة, و هذه التجارب تشكل نقطة انطلاق حيوية لاي حوار او ناقش عن الاندماج اجتماعي والتغيير المدني في النطاق العام و المشترك في المدينة.

بعيدا عن كل هذا الضجيج المرتبط بالنقل المشترك في بيروت, كل يوم اجد نفسي مندهشة امام ما يقوم به سائقو الحافلات لحماية النساء داخل حافلاتهم. ومن العادات الشائعة توفير السائق المقعد الامامي للجلوس بعيدا عن الركاب الذكور, اعطاء فسحة الركاب مجال امن للتحرك داخل الباص, وقد تذهب الامور بعض الاحيان الى اعطائي احد الركاب مقاعدهم حتى اتمكن من الجلوس بشكل مريح بعيدا عن اي من المتحرشين. والكثير من الركاب في كثير من الاحيان قد ساعدوني و دافعوا عني عن حصول اي مضايقات او عند شعوري بعدم الامان.

بيد أنه من المؤسف أن جميع هذه الجهود الإيجابية تندرج في نفس الخانة: فالطيبة والاخذ بعين الاعتبار انني أمراة لا يزلان يحدداني كأمرأة تستعمل الباص, “مفعول بها” وليست فاعلة, و يجب حمايتها .وانه سيكون من الأفضل بكثير إذا كانت هذه الأعمال اليومية تمتد نحو تثقيف وتوعية  الرجال الذين وضعوني في هذه الحالات في المقام الأول.

في احد المرات, ازعجني احد الركاب فوقف بعض الرجال واعطوني مقاعدهم ولكن لم يقم احد منهم بالاشارة الى المعتدي اواعلان عنه او حتى اخراجه من الحافلة. على الرغم من الترحيب بهذه التصرفات الحسنة التي تحمي النساء ولكن تبقى تصرفات كردات فعل وليست للحماية والوقاية الدائمة. ان مساعدة الناس بشكل سريع ولحظي لهو شيئ جيد ولكن اطار ثقافة هؤلاء الرجال ليس خارج النظام الأبوي بل انهم من قلب هذا النظام و من صلبه. ان شهامتهم  ليست الا كردة فعل طبيعية على فعل الاعتداء يستكمل بـموازنته بوقوفهم ضده لا اكثر, في حين ان النساء بقفون بشكل سلبي ومع الامتنان.

وهناك جانب آخر من مظاهر هذه التفاعلات المتناقضة: هو الانتقائية العنصرية والطبقية المتأصلة في اهتمامهم, فالنساء السود أو السوريات هن دائما أقل احتمالا للدفاع عنهن أو الاهتمام بهم من النساء اللبنانيات، مما يجعل النساء المهاجرات أكثر تعرضا للمضايقات. وهذا يثير الحاجة إلى جدال أكثر تعمقا وشمولية بشأن النقل المشترك باعتباره صورة مصغرة لمجتمعنا ككل.

هل هذه المشكلة متأصلة في واقع الحافلة كمساحة لقاء, أم أنها امتداد لثقافات معادية لاستقلالية المرأة على نطاق أوسع؟ انطلاقا من هذا التحليل المتقاطع، يخلص المرء إلى أن المضايقات في الحافلات هي مشكلة لا تعكس بشكل كبير مشكلة الامان في وسائل النقل المشترك، انما تعكس بشكل أكبر حقيقة تواجد المرأة في أي مكان عام في ظل النظام الأبوي.

لا ينبغي تجاهل المخاوف، ولكن يجب أن نضع هذه مخاوف في اطارها الصحيح: الشعور بالتهميش أو بعدم الانتماء أو بعدم الامان ليس أكثر حدة في الحافلة مما هو عليه في أي مكان حضري آخر. ومن وجهة نظري، لا يمكننا أن نجعل مساحات النقل المشترك أكثر أمانا وأكثر شموليتاُ للنساء دون التشكيك في المجتمع الأبوي والكاره للنساء. النقل المشترك جانب واحد من مجموعة أوسع من المسائل المثيرة للقلق: الحقوق الجندرية والاستقلال الجسد والعنصرية والطبقية والتضامن الاجتماعي.

وهذه المعركة لا يمكن أن تحدث عندما تتجنب النساء الحافلة. وبصفتنا نساء، نحتاج إلى اثبات وجودنا في هذا المجال الحضري الحيوي، ونحن بحاجة إلى تغيير شروط النقاش من المخاوف على سلامتنا إلى التزام مشترك بحقوقنا في المدينة. ما هو على امامنا في الحافلة يناسب صورة أكبر: استئصال الحوار من مشاكل النقل المشترك الى التضامن النسوي ومكافحة العنصرية. إن الاهتمام بالسلامة والكرامة والمساواة للجميع يعني قدرة أكثر فعالية على استعادة مستقبل بيروت للجميع.

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هذا المقال قد كتبته ميرا طفيلي و نشر بالانكليزية في موقع Beirut Today .وترجمه الى العربية شادي فرج .

بس للحلوين

بعد عدة سنين من استخدامي النقل المشترك ، وتحديدا ” الفانات”، أحب أن اتحدث عنها  من زاويتي الخاصة، بعيدا عن الكليشيهات المستخدمة في توصيفها وعن الإستياء من مزاحمتها  السيارات السياحية التي لا يقل سائقوها عدوانية عن سائقي الفانات !

بداية ، لا شك أن النقل المشترك في لبنان، ككل شيء آخر،  يعكس حالة الوطن. فهو صنيعة الفوضى المهيمنة في غياب التخطيط على الصعد كافة . ونشاهد يوميا مخالفات فاقعة لأنظمة السير ولأبسط الشروط البيئية وشروط السلامة، ما يجعلنا نتساءل كيف يلاحظ الشرطي غياب حزام الأمان أيام “الكبسات المرورية ” ولا يلاحظ الدخان الأسود المتصاعد من عوادم المركبات أو سائقي الدراجات النارية الذين تسخّر الطرقات والقوانين لبهلوانياتها !! عدا استعمال النُّمَر الخصوصيّة او تلك المطلية بالأحمر فتصير المركبة عمومية بضربة فرشاة!!

ولكن, هذا النظام من جهة أخرى له العديد من الفوائد الى حد أنه يتفوّق بها على باقي أنظمة النقل المشترك حول العالم:

النقل بواسطة الفانات يوفّر خدمة مريحة نسبيا لأنه يتيح للراكب الركوب والنزول في أي نقطة يريدها على مسار المركبة. هذه الخدمة قد تؤخّر باقي الركاب بسبب كثرة التوقّف والإقلاع ولكنها بالمقابل توفّر عليهم وقت وعناء السّير من وإلى المحطة. هذه الميزة نوّه بها أصدقاء أجانب إستعملوا الفانات خلال إقامتهم في لبنان.

من جهة ثانية، كل راكب يحصل على مقعد. فعندما استعملت النقل المشترك في اسطنبول (قطار أنفاق, باصات وقطار مُدُنيّ) خلال ساعات الذّروة, اضطررت الى الوقوف مع عدة أشخاص ملتصقين بي. في حين أن الفان الذي يمتلئ لا يستقبل ركّابا إضافيين إلا نادراً. علما أن  أن مقاعد الفانات غير مريحة أحيانا. إلا ان هذاا العامل غير كاف لتبديل نظام  النقل هذا .

وإذا استثنينا  الفانات التي تستعمل محركات مازوت أحيانًا او نلك التي تسير من دون فلتر للهواء و لا تراعي الشروط البيئية ، فإن نظام النقل المشترك المعتمد بيئي نسبيا كونه يوفّر استخدام المحروقات ويراعي أوقات الذروة بحيث تكثف الفانات نشاطها في أوقات الذروة وتخففها في الأوقات الأخرى. قبحسب دراسة أُجريت على النقل المشترك  حول العالم, فإن الباصات حين تعمل خارج أوقات الذّروة تلوّث البيئة أكثر مما يلوثها إستخدام كل راكب لسيارته الخاصة.

فهذا النظام مَرِن ومتناسب مع عدد الركاب بدل أن يكون جامدًا بحيث يمر الباص بانتظام في الموقف بغضّ النظر عن عدد الركاب. قد نكره الإنتظار حتى امتلاء الفان بالركاب ولكن هذه الخطوة مفيدة من أجل الوطن والبيئة. يعتبر العديد من الناس  أن نقلنا المشترك غير ناجح وأنه علينا شقّ سكك حديديّة او بناء نظام قطار أنفاق… ولكن لعل تحسين وتطوير نظام النقل بواسطة الفان أجدى من استبدال هذا النظام بحلول خياليّة باهظة الثمن تتطلّب وقتًا ومجهودًا في بلدٍ صغير الحجم ومثقل بالديون !

ومن التحسينات الضرورية لهذا النظام منع التدخين في المركبات وتكبير المقاعد وتحسين وضعيّتها،إستحداث نظام رقابة فعّال وتدريب السائقين وتعديل الفانات لتتماشى مع أوضاع ذوي الإحتياجات الخاصة… كما يمكن تخصيص مسار  للفانات على الطرقات كما هو الأمر في بلاد أخرى بحيث تتمتع بأفضلية المرور كونها تنقل حوالي 15 شخصا وتخفف بالتالي من التلوث وازدحام السير.

بعض الأجانب إستمتعوا باستخدام الفانات في التنقل.  وأنا أعتقد أنّها تجربة سياحية مميزة وغير كلاسيكية  لا تسوّق لها وزارة السياحة. هناك من يجد أن الأغاني “الوظّية” التي نسمعها في القانات والمركبات الغير المتشابهة والزينة المبهرجة تجغل منها نظام نقل غير محترف وغير مقبول ولكنني أجد ذلك مثيرًا للإهتمام ومسليًا. فكما أحب قراءة الحِكَم على الشاحنات, أستمتع بمراقبة الإضافات التي تعكس شخصيّة مالك الفان.

نظام النقل هذا يعبّر عنّا كشعب أكثر من نظام ممنهج مستورد من الغرب. فعبارة “بس للحلوين” التي أقرأها أحيانًا على خلفية أحد الفانات تشعرني بالإنتماء الى ثقافة فريدة. فبدل أن ننضوي تحت تبعيّة إضافية للنمط الغربي, دعونا نبني نقلًا مشتركًا جيّدًا ومميّزًا من خلال تحسين نظام  النقل المعتمد حاليا والذي يلبي حاجاتنا بطريقة مبدعة . يقول عُمدة بوغوتا إنريكي بٍنيالوسا: الدولة المتطورة ليست حيث يمتلك جميع الفقراء سيارات بل حيث يستعمل الأغنياء النقل المشترك.

نشكر السيد محمد مرتضى لمشاركتنا هذا المقال الرائع الذي كتبه في 7 تشرين الثاني 2014 في مجلة موزايك ونحن نعيد    نشره  بعد اتصاله بنا ورغبته بنشر المقال في البلوغ  ونحن كفريق نشكره على هذه البادرة ونطلب من الجميع ممن لديه  رغبة الكتابة الاتصال بنا

محمد مرتضى

تشرين الثاني  2014

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.

Bus 15, horloge urbaine – Mira’s story

Scroll down for English translation

 

Bus 15, horloge urbaine

par Mira Tfaily

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Courir pour l’attraper alors qu’on sait pertinemment qu’il en arrivera un autre cinq minutes plus tard et sauter pour en descendre parce qu’on est trop impatient pour attendre qu’il s’arrête. Les sièges en cuir patiné qui craquent quand on s’assoit un peu trop bien, les cigarettes grillées en cachette à l’arrière en essayant d’éviter le regard amusé du chauffeur.

Porter ses écouteurs sans musique pour ne pas se faire embêter; aller s’asseoir exprès à côté de tous les passagers pour les entendre raconter leurs histoires. Bus stoppé à Dora, bus stoppé à Cola, bus stoppé partout parce que Fawda w ma fi dawle, habibte, c’est ça, Beyrouth. C’est ça, Beyrouth, ou en tout cas c’est beyrouth par morceaux, et ça n’a jamais été autant Beyrouth que dans les fragments de vie que l’on capture à bord du bus.  

Bus 15 bondé en milieu de journée avec les piétinements des passagers debout qui forment une dabke folklorique sur des musiques de 2011; bus 15 solitaire de 4h du matin, tu ne sais pas ce qu’il fait là, il est désert, furtif et il roule plutôt vite.

Les chewing gums à l’abricot, les colliers de jasmins, les billets de 1000LL et les camel qui passent de main en main. Les pelures de bezer partout par terre, les restes de café qui jaunissent au fond des gobelets.

picture Garine Gokceyan
picture Garine Gokceyan

Le bus en août et sa chaleur suffocante qui se mêle à l’odeur des gardénias flétris.
La pluie d’octobre qui suinte à travers la fenêtre mal fermée.
Le coucher de soleil insignifiant et majestueux de janvier sur la corniche.
En mai on ne prend plus le bus on marche.

Les ados qui descendent à Gemmayze pour humer l’interdit et brûler leurs ailes sur le bitume âcre de la nuit tombée, les amants qui semblent n’aller nulle part et les ouvriers qui reviennent de Cola avec le sentiment du devoir accompli. La plupart ne savent pas où il va, mais reconnaissent par où il passe.  

Le bus 15 en escarpins en revenant de Mar Mikhael, le bus 15 en baskets après un jogging avorté sur la Manara. On décide de s’arrêter au Luna Park, on monte dans la grande roue déserte à 4000LL, et on regarde enfin les bus microscopiques d’en haut, qui rythment inlassablement le trafic de leurs striures blanches.

 

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Bus 15, The City’s Clockwork

I usually run to catch it even though I know for a fact that another one will come five minutes later; and I jump to get off because I’m too impatient to wait for it to stop. With its patinated leather seats that crack when I make myself a little too comfortable, and the cigarettes I grill on the back seat trying to avoid the amused glance of the driver.

Sometimes wearing my headphones without music to avoid being annoyed, sometimes sitting on purpose near all passengers to hear them tell their stories. Bus stuck at Dora, bus stuck at Cola, bus stuck everywhere because “fawda w ma fi dawle, habibte, this is Beirut.” This is Beirut; or at least, pieces of Beirut, and never has it been more Beirut than in the fragments of life you get to catch onboard.

Bus 15, overcrowded in the middle of the day, where the feet of passengers standing draw a folkloric dabke on songs from 2011; bus 15, solitary at 4am, you don’t know how come it is still on the road, empty and stealthy.

Apricot-flavored gums, jasmine necklaces, 1000LL bills, camel running from hand to hand, with bezer shells all around the floor, and coffee leftovers yellowing the wrinkled plastic cups.

The bus in August and its suffocating heat, rising up in the air along with the mesmerizing smell of rotten gardenia.
The October rain oozing through the half-closed window.
The meaningless and majestic sunset of January on the corniche.
In May, I don’t take the bus — I walk.

The teens that get down at Gemmayze to smell the forbidden and burn their wings on the pungent asphalt of the falling night; the lovers that aren’t heading anywhere, and the workers coming from Cola with their satisfacted sense of accomplishment. Most of the riders don’t know where the bus is going, but they are certain it will pass by some place they know.  

Bus 15 wearing stilettos after an evening in Mar Mikhail, bus 15 wearing sneakers after an aborted morning jog on the Manara. I decide to stop at Luna Park, I pay 4000LL to climb in the deserted big wheel, and I finally catch a glimpse of the microscopic buses seen from above, relentlessly punctuating the traffic with their white streaks.

 

#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.

HD-Picture3

“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.

Capture

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

giphy (3)

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 –

giphy (4)

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 –

giphy (5)

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 –

giphy (7)

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 – 

giphy

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 – 

giphy (1)

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 – 

giphy (2)

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”) – 

giphy (9)

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 – 

giphy (8)

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 –

giphy (10)

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 –

giphy (19)

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 – 

giphy (13)

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 – 

giphy (22)

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 – 

giphy (17)

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 – 

giphy (14)

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 – 

giphy (16)

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 – 

giphy (18)

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 – 

giphy (20)

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 – 

giphy (21)

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 – 

giphy (12)

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

Capturebmp

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.