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.

“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!

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

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]

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 .

Towards a Seamless Public Transport Experience: Smart Bus Stops by H2 Eco Design

by Mira Tfaily and Jad Baaklini

The earliest roots of what became Bus Map Project began as a search for grassroots, incremental approaches to public transport improvement in Lebanon. Over the last three months, we have been following and working closely with an eco-business and civil society initiative led by H2 Eco Design, a design and consulting firm working on implementing sustainable bus stops all over Lebanon. Their analysis and outlook very much fits into that bottom-up approach we have been eager to promote and contribute towards developing since day one.

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Picture this scene: brand new bus shelters powered by solar energy that provide users with sockets to charge their phones — what cities or countries pop in your mind?

You may be surprised to know that we are talking about a Lebanese scenario. So far, the bright, young team of H2 Eco Design have installed four such bus stops in the Mount Lebanon municipality of Beit Mery.

Launched in May 2016 by Rodrigue Haibi, Ralph El Hajj and Charbel Hajj, H2’s Smart Bus Stops initiative aims at slowly nudging the informal transit system into a more organized and legible network of interconnected infrastructures. “While some bus stops actually exist in Lebanon, they are implemented by municipalities without any consistency. H2 works on ensuring a consistency to better regulate the informal system of stops,” explains Charbel Hajj.

The team was inspired by the way that public transport promotes social mixity in Europe, and started looking for strategies to encourage Lebanese people who dismiss these modes of transport to shift their perceptions and learn to use them locally. H2 Eco Design’s theory of change is bottom-up: “We can’t force drivers to stop at our stops, so we study the field in the most detailed way possible, so that drivers feel it’s organic and natural to stop there. Sometimes we work on an informal bus stop where all riders tend to wait and we displace it just a few meters to ensure better road safety and protection norms,” Charbel continues, showing how a perspective that takes the existing system seriously is generative for advocates of improvements in the transport sector.

“Our first obstacle was the blurred line between public and private… It was a bit of a mess,” he smiles. Yet, by allowing the existing system to speak for itself, the team was able to learn and adapt for a greater chance of project success.

This pragmatic and flexible approach is also seen in H2’s funding model. While one bus stop unit costs between $3500 and $4000, the team is able to finance the project through a tiered scheme that brings in both local business advertisements and investments from the municipalities they partner with.

“The reactions of the municipalities are really diverse: some are reluctant about our project, and reject and dismiss the existing bus system all together; others are extremely enthusiastic and responsive.” From this perspective, H2’s initiative is also an advocacy project, and a civic service that citizens are offering the state, filling the gaps in a concrete and practical way.

Beyond the obvious convenience of having marked stops all over the bus network, H2 Eco Design’s Smart Bus Stops catalyze broader benefits for the Lebanese transit system:

          – Organizing public transport through consistency and formalization
          – Stirring up interest of sustainability stakeholders regarding transit
          – Mainstreaming the use of solar energy
      – Attracting younger users (15 – 30 years old) through modern conveniences like USB charger sockets, because they are the future generation that will shape the country through their aspirations
          – Contributing to road safety by encouraging more predictable bus starts and stops
          – Advocating for people to understand and use public transport more: if they wait at the stop to charge their phones, half the work is done.

In parallel to their eco-business and the indirect lobbying they do when negotiating with municipalities, the H2 team has been intentionally developing the advocacy dimension of their work by holding talks in universities to discuss the stigmas attached to the Lebanese bus system.

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Within the next two years, the team’s short-term goal is to help bus drivers get used to the stops, as well as encourage riders to use the buses through a combination of increased advocacy and more unit installations. With a projected rise in demand, it is hoped that bus drivers will start to organically adhere to these pick-up points, where the riders would be waiting. H2’s longer-term goal is to have about 10 to 15 bus stops per municipality, spaced by a maximum of 250 meters, in order to achieve a seamless public transport experience across the country through adaptation and coordination.

This collaborative spirit is very much the heart of the initiative; when a bus stop or shelter of some kind already exists in a municipality, H2 Eco Design works on renovating it, and not replacing it from scratch.

This does not mean that the team denies the usefulness of some top-down policies: “Ideally, we are pushing for a legislative step towards a fine for drivers who stop in the middle of the road; a little bit like what happened with traffic lights. At the beginning, people saw them as decorative lights, but when the law with a fine was implemented, 60% of people started to stop, and now we’re up to 98%. We’re aiming towards a gradual change,” concludes Charbel.

Just like the Bus Map Project, H2’s approach is rooted in small-scale, appreciative measures; working with the system to better the system — joud bel mawjoud.

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

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

 

How Can Public Transportation Curate your Perception of the City?

by Mira Tfaily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

by Mira Tfaily

 

1. The Old Habitué

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

 

2. The One That Sits Up Front –

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

 

3. The One That Sits at the Back –

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

 

4. The One That Does Not Sit –

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

 

5. The AUBites – 

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

 

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

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

 

7. Those Two or Three European Backpackers – 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

10. The Journalist on Bus Number 16 –

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

 

11. The One Who Doesn’t Pay –

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

 

12. The Beauty Queen – 

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

 

13. The Beiruti Casanova – 

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

 

14. The Posh Tante – 

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

 

15. The Sunday Communion of Saints – 

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

 

16. The Sleeper Agent – 

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

 

17. The Marlboro Man – 

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

 

18. The Sweaty Banker – 

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

 

19. The Undercover Driver – 

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

 

20. The One that Pays for the Group – 

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

 

 

Main photo by Johnny Hchaime