Get on the Bus

Renewed work on a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system marks a positive development for Jordan, promising improved connectivity in and around the capital city.

Jordan’s burgeoning and rapidly urbanizing population, estimated at nearly 7 million and expected to reach 8.5 million by 2025, is putting growing pressure on the country’s transport infrastructure.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa in May, HM King Abdullah highlighted the importance of urban development and transport infrastructure, as well as the opportunities for public-private partnerships to bring such projects to fruition.

As Jordan’s urban centers develop, the government will be hoping that BRT projects play a part in alleviating the strain of getting around Amman and other hubs, reducing congestion, and curbing costs. Amman has been the center point of Jordan’s rapid urbanization and population boom. Earlier this year, the city’s Mayor Aqel Biltaji put Amman’s population at an estimated 4 million.

High on the list of urban challenges is traffic congestion, particularly in and around the country’s major cities. “Motorists lose a lot of money on fuel consumed while their cars are stranded in traffic,” Ayman Smadi, executive director of transport and traffic at the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM), told local media in September. By some estimates, traffic jams can cost up to JD1 billion per year in wasted time and fuel, according to GAM.

Long in the offing, the Amman BRT system, which falls under the purview of GAM, is expected to play a key role in reducing congestion for commuters, while also providing stimulus to the construction industry.

Progress on the initial BRT line, which will operate within the city of Amman, has been somewhat stop-start, with construction beginning in 2010 before being suspended in 2011 amid concerns over feasibility and funding. Following a reassessment, the government relaunched the plan in 2013.

The project recently received renewed impetus in the form of $152 million in funding from the French Development Agency, France’s department for promoting sustainable development abroad.

The financial cooperation agreement signed in June paved the way for construction to resume, with work now under way on a 4 kilometer section of Princess Basma Street. Construction is scheduled to take 30 months, according to local press reports, with responsibility for infrastructure and buses to be divided between GAM and the private sector, respectively.

Once completed, the BRT system will have a fleet of 150 high-capacity buses, shuttling as many as 200,000 passengers daily around a 33 kilometer network, 25 kilometers of which will be dedicated bus lanes. Separating buses from the main body of traffic is seen as particularly useful during rush hour and has been a successful approach in other major cities around the world.

Work is also gaining pace on a second BRT line, which will link Amman with the satellite city of Zarqa, located 22 kilometer east of the capital. Zarqa, which has a population of close to 1 million, is the Kingdom’s third-largest city and a major commuter hub for Amman, with some 100,000 passengers travelling between the two cities each day, according to Ministry of Transport estimates.

Once completed, the Amman-Zarqa BRT line could reduce commute times to as little as 23 minutes each way, with buses arriving every 70 seconds at peak travel times. The authorities aim to start work on the project in 2016, with a JD110 million tender for construction expected in the coming months, Minister of Transport Lina Shbeeb told media in October. Financing from regional sources, including a GCC grant awarded through the Kuwaiti Development Fund, is set to provide JD100 million of the project’s expenses, according to Marwan Hmoud, director of the Land Transport Regulatory Commission.

By Oliver Cornock, Regional Editor THE INSIDE EDGE