First glimpse of buses donated by France to modernize Lebanon’s public transport system

The first batch of 50 buses intended to modernize the Lebanese transport network arrived in Beirut on Monday and will hit the streets in the coming weeks.

Public Works and Transport Minister Ali Hamieh said it was just the first delivery under a deal to help Lebanon improve the country’s aging and dilapidated public transport system .

A third of the buses will start linking areas of greater Beirut in the coming weeks, while the rest will connect the capital to other parts of the country.

While the Minister hopes this is the first delivery and that others will follow, French officials have clarified that “the expansion of the project will depend on the success of this pilot phase and the ability of the Lebanese authorities to improve the public transport network with these 50 buses”.

But they specified that Paris would work with Beirut on “technical assistance and expertise”, as well as “in-depth reflection on the organization and structuring of urban mobility in Lebanon”.

The donation comes at a time when fuel prices are rising, which has pushed more people to use cheaper public transport.

Lebanon is largely connected by networks of private micro-buses and large, but worn and outdated, government buses.

Each of the single-decker vehicles can accommodate up to 92 people, compared to the 24-seater buses currently in use.

While the project is an attempt to modernize public transport and reduce traffic congestion, some proponents of better transport in traffic-ridden Lebanon have expressed concern that large buses will struggle on winding roads. and full of potholes in the country.

Some pointed out that a change of mentality is needed to accommodate vehicles.

Public transport expert Tamma Nakkash said cars should no longer rule the roads.

Others fear that the problems affecting transport in Lebanon are much more fundamental than the sheer size of the roads.

Chadi Faraj, co-founder of the Lebanese shared transport advocacy organization Riders’ Rights, asked how the fleet would be integrated alongside “zero resources”.

He said that “three quarters of bus drivers are no longer working and there are no adequate salaries”.

“The foundations of transportation planning need to be laid before we even put the buses on the ground,” Faraj said.

While Lebanon was once connected to the region by rail – and at one point the construction of a metro in Beirut was under consideration – the country’s public transport system has been deteriorating for years.

Even before a severe economic collapse devastated Lebanon in 2019, the network suffered from a lack of formal regulation and funding.

Buses are old, routes are not always clearly mapped, and few follow fixed schedules.

The dire state of the sector has been exacerbated by Lebanon’s financial crisis, with a sharp rise in gasoline prices and public tariffs as well.

Today, the country’s public transport is symbolic of Lebanon’s collapse, with many buses and vans used to transport residents between cities in poor condition – broken seats, missing doors and engine problems leaving them prone to breakdowns .

The world Bank in 2018, approved a global package of $295 million to “overhaul Lebanon’s decaying transport sector”.

Although hailed as its “first modern public transport system” in decades, the so-called Greater Beirut Public Transport Project has failed to materialize due to the country’s continued economic collapse.

Updated: May 24, 2022, 5:37 p.m.

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