Making BRT Work

As GAM and the government move forward with their bus rapid transit (BRT) projects, it’s important to ensure the right measures are in place for the new systems to operate effectively.

By Hazem Zureiqat

With Princess Basma Street closed off for construction, and work set to begin elsewhere around Amman, GAM is pushing ahead with the city’s first BRT system. The Ministry of Transport is also getting ready to lay the foundation stone for a BRT line that connects Amman and Zarqa.

Although some still question the viability of the whole BRT concept to Jordan, the projects are going ahead and we all need to concentrate on making them work.

Very soon, we will have a network of bus lanes running across some major corridors in Amman and all the way to Zarqa, and there are certain conditions that must be in place for an efficient, modern BRT system to operate on those lanes. As chaotic as it often appears, the existing public transport system still manages to fulfill its function. But its current modus operandi will not work when the BRT is up and running.

Making the BRT work in Jordan is crucial not only for the function these systems will provide, but also because of what they represent. They are the ‘proof of concept’—the first rapid transit systems in a country in dire need of a paradigm shift in transportation and mobility.

We have to get the business model right. Unlike existing operators, the BRT operator or operators will have to work under a contract with strict service standards, such as defined frequencies for the peak and off peak periods, hours of service, bus specifications, accessibility requirements, and so on. The government may have to subsidize part of the operation, at least early on to ensure these standards are met. If direct subsidies cannot be provided through what is known as gross cost or net cost operating contracts, alternative arrangements may have to be devised, such as commercial investment rights at BRT stations and terminals.

We must also make sure the new BRT systems will integrate with existing public transport services. New routes will make some existing routes redundant and will require realignments to ensure BRT stations are served by adequate feeder services. The BRT cannot operate in isolation, and restructuring the network around it will be key to its success. This is easier said than done, though. Some operators have been running their lucrative routes for decades, and have even grown to see them as a possession that can be passed on to their children. At the same time, the government must ensure existing operators are not disenfranchised. This is a significant sociopolitical issue that’s not unique to Jordan. Many cities that had gone through transformations in urban transport experienced similar issues. Some incorporated these legacy operators by making them operate the new rapid transit systems.

The new draft transportation law lays the foundation for making this issue relatively easier to deal with, mainly by giving individual operators a five-year period to merge or join an existing company. But this won’t be enough. A practical plan needs to be developed and enacted soon, well before any BRT bus hits the road.

Finally, there are opportunities for integration between the Amman BRT and Amman-Zarqa BRT, especially since they are both being constructed around the same time. The BRT is a flexible concept that allows for flexible services and routes. If, for instance, there’s significant demand for transport between Zarqa and the University of Jordan, then a direct service should be offered. A passenger coming from Zarqa shouldn’t have to switch buses somewhere in Amman because of different jurisdictions or operating contracts. The government and GAM should coordinate so that this can happen. This can mean having a single operator for both systems or allowing the operator of one system to use the infrastructure of the other.