Amman’s outgoing transport chief Ayman Smadi represents a shining example of how a dedicated civil servant can make a positive difference to our everyday lives. GAM should ensure that the work he started progresses as planned.
By Hazem Zureiqat
Last month, the Director of Transportation and Traffic Management at GAM, Ayman Smadi, left his job for a Dubai-based post at the International Association of Public Transport. He managed Amman’s transport portfolio since 2008, not long after the municipality had taken over the authority to plan and regulate public transport within its boundaries. I had the pleasure of working with him at GAM between 2008 and 2010, so I know what an asset he was to the city.
Smadi’s departure comes at a critical time for GAM, as Mayor Akel Biltaji rightly pointed out in a recent statement thanking the outgoing director. It comes as construction on the Amman Bus Rapid Transit project (BRT) is finally resuming after a four-year suspension, setting the scene for GAM’s wider public transport program.
Many can attest to Smadi’s achievements and work ethic during his tenure at GAM. He oversaw the development of Amman’s Transport and Mobility Master Plan between 2008 and 2010 and the studies and projects that followed, including not only the BRT, but also a feasibility study for a metro in Amman (which I examined in last month’s column), parking studies, traffic studies, and various other transport interventions, some of which did not see the light of day. Smadi also helped forge international partnerships that put Amman on the map in the urban and transport planning scene.
But moreover, Smadi will probably be best remembered for instilling a new way of thinking about transport at the organization. For decades prior to the transfer of public transport regulatory authorities, GAM was responsible for traffic operations within the city and had nothing to do with public transport. The Traffic Engineering Department (“handasat al-muroor”) was one of GAM’s flagship divisions. Transport was viewed purely from the perspective of the private car, and congestion relief was achieved (at least in the short term) through building more road infrastructure—be it roundabouts, bridges, or tunnels. Today, many such projects have been scrapped in favore of more balanced solutions that take into account mobility—the movement of people and goods—rather than the movement of cars. Administratively, and for the first time, there is now an integrated directorate (which Smadi used to head) that oversees transport in all its modes and houses the Traffic Engineering Department—now known as the Traffic Operations Department—among other units.
As we look back at the changes that took place and Smadi’s legacy over the past eight years, we have to make sure that the progress achieved so far is sustained and taken forward. The lack of continuity and institutional work is a problem that has been plaguing our public agencies for years. Many officials tend to disregard—and some may even intentionally sabotage—the achievements of their predecessors. A huge bureaucracy with over 20,000 employees, GAM is no stranger to that trend.
Whoever takes over Smadi’s position should forcefully push ahead with the BRT project and ensure it’s completed on time and on budget. GAM as an institution should continue to work towards a city with a more balanced, multimodal transport system that provides users with viable options to move around, from using their cars to taking a bus or walking on foot.
Sadly, Smadi’s departure is reminiscent of other similar cases of brain drain across both the public and private sectors in Jordan. Although he certainly leaves behind qualified planners and engineers at GAM (this article is by no means intended to belittle their work nor their qualifications), what we need today is strong leadership and a champion that can move forward with the city’s transport program and ensure that it doesn’t die away. There is so much left to do and so much at stake, and this shouldn’t be about Ayman Smadi or any other single individual.