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Beirut: Public Transport Rivals Paralyze Reform
02. Jul 2013

source: english.al-akhbar.com

 

Beirut’s public transport system is the site of a recent showdown between the city’s municipality and the Lebanese Ministry of Transport and Public Works. Between these two institutions, public transport has become a frontline for political campaigning.

While the ministry’s plan to purchase 250 buses failed when suppliers were not up to technical specifications, the municipality was busy with its own public transport project. Now, the two sides are fighting over the right to set bus specifications and routes, which has become an issue of contention due to the growing privatization of transportation.

Lebanon’s public transport system is practically a mirror image of the government’s corruption. Private transportation has a grip on the market and acts without control or supervision.

The private sector appeared to be winning the public transport battle. By the end of 2010, only three public bus lines were available and the private sector was master of the streets. The chaos is seized upon to benefit profiteers in the fuel and car import markets. It marginalizes supervisory authorities and impedes efficient traffic flow.

In August 2004, the cabinet approved the "Public Transportation Bill" to purchase 250 buses for Beirut and other areas. The project was not part of a larger development plan, but a reaction to increased demand.

It was not just urgent for the public sector to purchase new buses, but it became a condition for its existence and the work of its employees. Automatically, the Department of Public Transport and Rail began studying the transportation network, identifying routes and the number of vehicles required for Greater Beirut.

As soon as the study was released, politicians began sharpening their claws. The biggest detractor was former prime minister Fouad Siniora, then minister of finance. He managed to keep it on the shelves until Najib Mikati's last government decided to put it back on track, but without implementation.

On a parallel track, the public transport department began repairing defunct buses and putting them back on the streets. At the beginning of August 2012, Minister of Public Works Ghazi Aridi announced that 45 buses were back in operation. Out of the 45 buses, six were put on the line from Cola to Khaldeh and on to Aridi's hometown Baissour. This raised suspicions that the entire project was an electoral scheme for his region.

 

The private sector appeared to be winning the public transport battle. By the end of 2010, only three public bus lines were available and the private sector was master of the streets.The public works ministry has now begun to implement its larger transportation plan for Beirut and its suburbs. It will create over 900 bus stops and interlinking routes. However, the plan is outdated, having been on the shelf for the past eight years.

 

According to the minutes of meeting No.752 of the Municipal Council of Beirut, the council agreed to allow the Traffic, Transport, and Lighting Committee in the municipality to contract Team International, an engineering firm, to evaluate public transportation reform.

Municipality head Bilal Hamad said that the idea is not to be limited to buses, and could possible include an experimental tram between downtown Beirut and Bliss Street.

However, the municipality's "consensual" project was not implemented either. According to Hamad, "Beirut Governor Nassif Kaloosh sent the project back six months later, claiming that consensual agreement cannot apply to the contracting of Team. However, we’re sticking to our project and have sent it back to him to implement."

According to information circulating among stakeholders, the rejection came after an agreement by Kaloosh and the general director of land and maritime transport to implement the ministry's project and destroy any project by the municipality.

The second reason is that the call for tenders conducted by the rail and public transport department failed to attract bidders matching the required specifications.

Many claimed that the bidding was “rigged” in favor of a particular company. Of 38 major public transportation companies, only five presented their tenders: Bazerji & Co.; the Subaru distributor on behalf of a Chinese company that did not meet the requirements; Volvo agents Abou Adal; Rasamny Motor Company, on behalf of another unknown Chinese brand; and Omatra, agents of Iris Bus.

According to the tenders committee, four companies will be disqualified for not meeting the specifications, and only Rasamny remained.

However, the terms of reference included an important issue related to fuel specifications. It was supposed to be diesel based on the Euro 5 technology, which is difficult to supply, since the diesel allowed into Lebanon is based on Euro 3 standards.

image: Al Akhbar/Marwan Tahtah

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