I took the bus (gasp!).. So am I now officially uncool?

17/3/2006

Amman Bus

I can’t really remember when was the last time I took this form of public transportation in Amman, but It might have been a full decade ago.

From age 7 or 8, till I was 18, I almost had a daily bus ride. My last 3 years at school at Al Hussein College in Jabal Al Hussein involved a bus trip to downtown Amman and sometimes a ride on a Service-Car (Al Abdali Al Da’iri line). When I moved to university, I soon got my first car (a 1973, beat up Mini) and my bus rides became very rare.

For some weeks now I have been noticing the new busses on the Medical City-Downtown line, which overlaps with the car drive to my office, located in the lower part of Wadi Saqra street. Some of the new busses are of the proper urban type (as opposed to the military-style, huge and noisy transporters we’re used to in Amman). The electronic sign on their front, which displays the line name in Arabic and English give these busses a touch of urban modernity. In the back of my mind I was planning to take the bus to work as an experiment anytime soon.

I have been car-less for the past 2 days (it’s in repair), so I took a taxi to my 4 pm meeting near 8th circle. After the meeting I wanted to take a taxi back to the office, but all of the ones that passed were occupied. Suddenly a large (military style) bus appeared. I said to myself: why not, and waved for it to stop. Luckily I had enough change on me (a full 20 piasters) which I threw into the plexiglas container near the driver. I took a seat among the other citizens and off the bus went towards downtown.

The bus was pretty clean and well kept. The driver was communicating with someone (central command?) with a dashboard installed Xpress phone (which also has GPS capabilities). The ride was pretty smooth and I think the bus only stopped at the proper bus-stops (and not every 5 meters as it used to do in past).

A million ideas were going through my head during the ride. I watched different kinds of people get on and off the bus. I also remembered the horrible, rather offensive, anti-bus ad published recently by the Bank of Jordan (see below).

Bank ad

I got off at Third Circle and walked the rest of the way to my office feeling good about myself as I saved at least 1 JD by taking the bus :)

While the bus ride was OK, I jut find it mind boggling that:

* Our bus stops don’t have any information on bus lines and time tables.

* That Amman doesn’t have a bus map.

* That inside the bus, there isn’t an sign announcing where you currently are.

* That we still haven’t managed to create a bus ticket system.

These are NOT new inventions. These are standards for any modern bus system in the developed world. Implementing these standards isn’t rocket science or too costly.

If you follow all the stories of how Amman will grow and expand in the coming 5 years then you probably realize that, unless we build one heck of a public transport system in this city, we are setting ourselves up for a major urban disaster. Even Dubai, which we seem to be imitating in Amman, has a major traffic problem. A friend recently told me that his car commute time increased almost SEVEN fold (from 3 minutes to 20) over the past 3 years in Amman.

A recent news story revealed that a train line is being considered between Amman and Queen Alia Airport. Now that would be cool. But more is needed.

Every urban planner, big name real estate developer, CEO of a big company and Minister should be forced to leave their SUV/Big Car at home and take the bus at least once a month. It’s called ‘eating your own dog food’ in consulting lingo. Test the experience of masses of people on the bus. And let’s start imitating Berlin, London and Prague when it come to public transportation. Or are we too cool for that?

London Underground Map segment

8 Comments

  1. Firas says:

    Ahmad this is freaky!
    Because today I’ve used both a public bus and a service!
    And guess what? I’ve been a fool!
    I’ve saved JD3.00!

    Yeah, I first saw the new buses between 5th circle and Wadi Saqra.
    There is a photo on my blog

    The next step would be getting rid of all these TOYOTA coaster buses and have a fixed time schedule.

    Good post!

  2. Lina says:

    I absolutely love this post Ahmed! I always found that bank ad very offensive…

    I have been thinking about the whole public transportation thing a lot recently (more so as I’m looking for a car), and I guess one of the major problems is what you said; there is no clear map, and there is no clear schedule… so it’s a bit risky to depend on it if you have appointments and if your schedule is not really fluid and flexible. Also, vital points in Amman are not all well connected and covered in a time-effective manner… I remember I once wanted to go from Rainbow street to university, and not really knowing what the bus map is like, I walked from there downtown to the Abdali service car stop (serveece il Abdali), took the serveece to the Abdali bus terminal, and then the bus to uni… and I was wondering, is there a more efficient route that I was totally clueless about?? there must be..

  3. ohoud says:

    Well these new buses do shed some positive light on the system that might be evolving.

    But the whole bus fabric needs too much work which doenst fit the agenda of people here. Time schedule , road study of whole Amman and creating bus stops? its too much of a hassle for them.

    Plus the urban fabric doesnt really lend itself, it wasnt established to incooporate this.

  4. Phree says:

    Mass transportation in the UK is like, better than our educational system! It’s just heavenly, they should learn from them. It would be time and money saving and it would solve Amman’s ridiculous traffic jams.

  5. David says:

    I have to agree with you about Prague. The transportation system there runs very nicely, and their ticketing system is very impressive. I like the fact that you can use a single ticket for a period of time, which makes it convenient when switching subway lines or transferring from a tram to a bus.

    The only other city that I might add to the list (especially since it more closely resembles Jordanian styles) is Istanbul. Not only do they have a highly efficient bus system, but also a subway, train, and ferry system that all run off of the same pay system: the akbil. An akbil is a small key-type of device that attaches to your key ring. You add credit on to your account and then utilize it on all of the above listed forms of transportation. It’s very convenient.

  6. nasimjo says:

    Dear Ahmad, Sorry for not being able to comment earlier,and for not having the proper time to do yesterday, since I had loads of stuff to say about your post and the contributors’ comments.

    Allow me please to correct some information regarding what you and the fellow contributors wrote here, based on my knowledge as a day by day Public Transportation user, rather than a part of a transportation intelligence project.

    1- “…noticing the new buses on the Medical City-Downtown line..”: They aren’t new! Asia Transport Co is the licensed investor for this line (Line Nr 43) since its beginnings, i know the 1st 2 lines they have started operating were this one as well as line 41 (Khelda – Raghadan).

    2- Asia Transport Co’s fleet of buses primarily consists of DAEWOO buses, just like the one you have taken and photographed, they have started with 30 buses, and now their fleet exceeds 145 buses, most of which are DAEWOO buses. Those DAEWOO buses ARE NOT “military style” buses, but ones that were made for Urban transportation, and with variable capacity, obviously, you got in a (45+20) version (that is 45 seated + 20 standing), some versions accommodate (30+30) and even (25+40), those come in with the front rows of 1 seat in stead of a couple, and a wide standing area in the middle.
    As for the other buses in the fleet, 5 Mercedes Citaro – Low plate have been introduced in 2003, those are not only european style, but also specialized for Disabled people, those mostly move on The medical city and Hashemite University routes, which are probably the most used routes for this type of passengers (We have such people with special needs studying at our university), I guess you most probably have seen those Citaros.
    Also Newly Introduced (Last January) in Asia’s fleet as a soft test are 16 meter long Mercedes buses, also european style, but not that suitable for disabled people though, those new buses can accommodate (45+65) and are amazingly comfortable for standing, but not that Ammani Street’s friendly with their 6 wheels on 16m length, so they mostly use them for the Hashemite University’s routes, but also saw them operating on Khelda’s line. I guess they got 12 buses of those.

    3- “The electronic sign on their front”: Yeah, Finally they got them on, instead of the old static written plates in the place where those electronic ones are situated now.. I guess those electronic plates are what also made you think the buses are new (PS: Some of them are 7 year old models btw ;) . The old static plates were confusing since those urban buses have privileges to move on any of the lines their company is operating.

    4- “..The driver was communicating with someone (central command?) with a dashboard installed Xpress phone …”: Actually its a couple of guys in Raghadan called Fathi and Bassam ;) hehe, yeah they introduced Xpress phones lately, Asia’s is using GPS as an experiment at the moment, and not using Xpress’s GPS, but using some dedicated administration devices brought all the way from Germany! The Administration device is situated somewhere above the driver’s console and consists along with a GPS tracking system, a hidden camera that reports high resolution processed images of inside the bus among the “central command’s” request! The size of this device is half the size of a car radio!!!! In our project’s preliminary investigation report, we were surprised about it, those stuff were installed back then (Jan 29) in only 5 buses (I recall bus nr 78,79,& 27). their object is 100% enterprise and disciplinary oriented though. & again, still experimental.

    5- “..as I saved at least 1 JD by taking the bus..”: ! I guess a Taxi wouldn’t have taken less than a couple of JDs ;)

    6- “Our bus stops don’t have any information on bus lines and time tables”: They do! Believe you me they do! Some plates were Installed 1st in 2002 (By Asia), & damaged by our beloved residents and citizens. The PTRC re-installed vertical stands in 2005 that don’t have only Asia’s buses on them, but some of those were also damaged (though they are solid ones similar to ads stands available in malls), and some are installed in wrong places, hint hint: there’s one at the (3rd circle – Dakhelie) Service stop opposite to Le Meridian, another one at the (Dakhelie – Abdali) service stop as you get on the street to Abdali from the Dakhelie Circle, both must be situated in entirely different locations ;)

    7- “That Amman doesn’t have a bus map” It does! But the GIS employee at the PTRC resigned and there’s no replacement ;) (NO I SWEAR TO GOD THIS IS WHAT THEY TOLD US!). Partial Maps are available on the previously mentioned plates and stands.

    8- “That we still haven’t managed to create a bus ticket system”: Think Smarter! Didnt u notice something big and green above the plexiglas container you through your money in ;) Asia Transport has been using a Smart Card (Yes even smarter than Istanbul’s since i’ve experienced that one also Mr David ;) the card is smart enough so that you don’t even need to get out from you pocket or handbag! It collects the fare exactly and displays it on its monitor (with red digits) along with the amount of credit you still have, smart card charging corners are available at the medical city, Raghadan, Safeway intersection at the beginning of Garden’s street, and the Hashemite University. And Hint Hint, they are using this system since late 200-early 2002, that is when they stopped collecting money but the exact fare from the riders.

    9- “..unless we build one heck of a public transport system in this city, we are setting ourselves up for a major urban disaster..”: Can’t you guess that the urban disaster is more in the people their self, rather than the public transport system!? The public transportation system is there with all its positives and negatives, and with over 350,000 persons using it on daily bases(In Amman). You can give me any 2 points in amman and I’ll be able to get to them using public transportation + a lil bit of walking, people, even bus rider’s are not used to walk nowadays, take al-baiader bus( the one you took before) during day time and notice the fact that some people stop the bus before and after the 5th circle, or the 3rd or the 6th , once a girl insisted on the driver to stop in the middle of the 5th circle even!
    Who asks can get to the desired place after all, there’s a 1st time for everything, and this is what the million of car drivers in amman are not affording!
    I’m really proud to study in a university whose 90% of students depend on public transportation, despite the troubling times they faced with it, a couple of years ago the students even boycotted Asia Co for a whole week after they raised the fares with over 40%, in one week the company got back to the previous prices, this is what i call people power, despite everyone had to suffer then because there was no official operator for Zarqa Line for about 2 years.

    10- & Yes THERE IS A SCHEDULE :) All the urban buses in amman powered by the 3 Urban buses operators (Asia, Al-Thilal, & Al Tawfiq) DO HAVE A SCHEDULE! And Yes, Variable ones according to peak and off-peak hours.
    Asia started implementing it back in 2001, and supplied them on the plates they installed (as mentioned earlier) and as brochures for their “Clients”, I have one my self used in our project’s fact finding analysis, the 2 other operators, that started gradually since 2002, had similar frequency schedules on their route starting 2004. & By the way, Al-Thilal & Al-Tawfiq’s fleets are powered by 100% Jordanian Made Urban Buses, Al-Thilal’s consists of 2 Jordanian Mitsubishi models, huge ones “the military-way if you still insist” and mid ones that are used for the routes that pass throughout neighborhoods (just like Raghadan- Da7eit Al-Rashid), those last ones are like humvys by the way ;) you can feel the 4×4 power in them ;) Al-Tawfiq’s are powered by mid size mitsubishis just like the previously mentioned, but mainly by Jordanian made Volvo B7s, those are huge enough to accommodate (60+25) … yes 60 seated.

    11- “..it’s a bit risky to depend on it if you have appointments and if your schedule is not really fluid and flexible..”: Yes indeed lina, but not because of the schedule, but the traffic situation it self in amman, probably the most challenging point in our project is not really having optimal trip duration for the routes, thus any Transport Intelligence management system must be self learning as far as people still depend on their own cars to block the traffic in the capital, I recall my observation for the public transportation in romania, where people became “because of wealthiness” dependable on their own cars instead of public transportation, the public transportation became less available, with less passengers to serve (thus with less overcrowding problems) but, at the same time with less satisfaction for its clients because of the traffic jams and congestions.

    12- “..a train line is being considered between Amman and Queen Alia Airport.”: Ohoo! This still a far away project, as it’ll gonna be the 3rd extension of Amman-Zarqa Train project, the 2nd extension is from Mahata (the Train station) to Sweileh, and yet the 3rd is the Mahata – Airport, I guess this wont be accomplished even before opening the yet to be built new terminal at QAIA.

    & finally, Yes, We need more, and way a lot of work to do, but we “as people” demanding those stuff, need also to know, or rather get interested to know, where are we now! Don’t forget that many voices comparing our public transportation with the european system assign drivers to serve their childern’s movements! That is of course in case they don’t have more than 3 cars! It’s also the matter of mentalities and fixations.

    Anyway, glad you got in a bus ahmad, and had the joy to find a lil Jordan inside the urban bus, nothing beats taking the urban buses, you get to see and know all sort of people, with different interests, cultures and mentalities.

  7. Bassam says:

    Hello everyone,
    I am visiting Amman coming from Madrid and I was trying to find a map of the city online. That is when I bumped into your blog and thought may be you can help me.

    Since Google Maps is not offering any kind of map to the city, my only chance is to find a PDF map so I can know where to rent and where to go before traveling actually there.

    Thanks already

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