Reda Sawaya wrote in Al-Akhbar:
What is constant in the transportation crisis we are experiencing is that we have moved, in a dramatic way, from one era to another. The problem is bigger and deeper than monopoly, smuggling and lack of liquidity to open credits. Rather, it is the result of economic choices that were previously conceived and designed to strike public and shared transportation and encourage the ownership of private cars, until we reached a scenario that most private car owners may not be able to move their cars after the subsidy has been removed completely, and no joint transportation is able (or willing) to meet the transportation citizens.
The cost of service inside Beirut ranges between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds, and the cost of transportation, back and forth to and from work, for any employee is estimated at about 800,000 pounds, which is 125,000 pounds more than the minimum wage. Finally, a report published by the “International Information” indicated that “the wages of transport by public cars or small vans and large buses rose at a higher rate than the increase in the prices of gasoline and diesel.” The service fare inside Beirut increased by 87.5%, and the cost of small and large buses from Beirut to Tripoli increased by 100%, and reached 114% for large buses between Beirut and Jounieh.
The head of the land transport sector’s unions and unions, Bassam Tlais, announced last week that Prime Minister Hassan Diab had agreed that the state would support the sector, so that a can of gasoline would be sold at 100,000 pounds and a diesel canister at 70,000 pounds for public drivers, provided that the service tariff would be fixed at 10,000 pounds.
However, “the transportation problem in Lebanon is structural and cannot be solved by providing support or forming a government or any other pretext,” according to Ali Al-Zein, a researcher specializing in transportation systems and mobility habits, as “all indications, for years, have confirmed that we are on the verge of a major crisis in the sector.” Transfer due to policies, or non-policies, that have been adopted in this field. The inevitable result of this is our transition from a transportation system to a non-transport system, which will lead to fundamental changes in the transportation method in Lebanon and the behavior of citizens in this regard.” Al-Zain points out that “supporting public drivers is self-evident in normal circumstances, in the absence of any other alternative at the present time. However, the proposed subsidy plan is nothing more than words of truth intended to be false. No one knows how many vehicles to be supported, nor according to what data. According to Social Security, 42,400 people have red plates. However, how many actually work in the sector, as many of them bought red plates to rent and benefit from the guarantee, and they are registered as shared transport drivers? He warned that “the intention behind everything that is planned is to support an electoral project and to secure the votes of those who will benefit from the support and their families.” But if the intentions are true, it is necessary to “conduct an inventory to limit the number of drivers who actually work, not everyone who owns a red plate, and to install GPS devices on cars and buses to ensure that the number of kilometers traveled by the driver within a certain period of time is determined as a condition to benefit from the support.” It is true that this seems surreal in the circumstances in which we live, but on what basis will the driver be given subsidized gasoline or diesel without knowing whether he is actually working or the extent of his productivity, and who guarantees that he will not sell fuel on the black market to take advantage of the price difference without having to work.” .
In addition, Al-Zein clarifies that more than 60% of joint transportation in Lebanon is located in Greater Beirut, which deprives entire regions of joint transportation services. .
The civil engineer specializing in the field of transportation, Ramy Semaan, points out that “one of the solutions to ensure that subsidies are not neglected is to subsidize the transportation tariff, not the driver’s support, because fuel subsidies may push drivers to sell the subsidized plate.” As for increasing the red billboards to meet the largest number of residents and regions, “it will only lead to chaos, because the number of billboards out there is more than what is required, and the market must be organized and not flooded.” Al-Zein warns that the proposal to increase the number of billboards “will not take into account the needs of the market, supply and demand, as much as it will be aimed at distributing billboards from the parties in power on the basis of party and regional affiliation.”
In light of this reality, are there innovative solutions to adapt to the crisis and limit its negative consequences?
Al-Zein confirms, “We have begun to see drastic changes in the transportation habits of the majority of the population, whose movements have become largely related to necessities only. These changes will deepen in the future to an extent that may push many to move to work closer to their residence or vice versa, or perhaps leave their work permanently if the transportation problem worsens.” He points out that “participatory transport is one of the habits that will emerge and spread despite some legal and social obstacles that limit its attractiveness. It is also necessary to work on participatory transportation secured by employers, such as contracting with a bus to deliver employees to their places of residence, instead of giving them a transportation allowance.
According to El-Zein, “The Lebanese transport model is unique. On the one hand, we have a transport sector, as in rich countries, that depends on the car, a modern fleet, and high transportation costs. On the other hand, we have the characteristics of transportation in poor countries in terms of the weakness of the joint transportation sector and the difficulty of transportation for the poor.” And if the crisis continues, “it would not be surprising to see citizens moving in the boxes of goods trucks!”