Decentralizing Transport

With local elections taking place this summer, it’s important to consider transport planning in the context of Jordan’s ambitious decentralization efforts.

As Jordan’s decentralization program moves forward, the Kingdom is slated to hold municipal and governorate council elections on August 15. With three quarters of their members voted in, the newly formed governorate councils will be responsible for endorsing “strategic plans, budgets, and infrastructure and service projects” throughout their four-year terms, according to the Decentralization Law.

Meanwhile, parliament is set to soon pass a new law governing the passenger transport sector. The law allows the Land Transport Regulatory Commission (LTRC) to delegate its functions to local authorities. Public transport in Amman and Aqaba is already planned and regulated by GAM and ASEZA, respectively, yet the new legislation opens the door for more decentralization.

With these developments taking place, it’s important to consider the various models that can be applied in planning and regulating transport networks in Jordanian cities, towns, and villages.

Traditionally, municipalities have always had a significant role in managing the road network at the local level. Public transport, on the other hand, remained a centralized function in the hands of LTRC and its predecessors (except in Amman and Aqaba). This arrangement can be partly blamed for the distortion in the transportation system. Mobility issues are best resolved through a balanced, multimodal approach. In the current arrangement, a local municipality faced with such an issue could only work on the road network, since that was the sole option in its toolbox of solutions.

A further argument for decentralizing transport planning and regulation is that local governments are largely involved in land use planning within their jurisdictions, either directly or through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. Transport demand is a function of land use (naturally, people move around to get to certain places), so it is not surprising that local entities would have a better understanding of local transport needs.

The above argument is not meant to oversimplify the matter or offer a one-size-fits-all solution for decentralizing transport-related functions. There are nuances that must be considered in the Jordanian context.

First, some municipalities can be quite small, and it wouldn’t make sense to have each and every one of the Kingdom’s 100 municipalities recruit planning staff and regulate the transport network within its boundary from A to Z. A balance can be achieved by splitting the various functions between the new governorate council and the local municipalities, and even keeping some at the national level, with LTRC.

Second, we can decentralize supply all we want, but transport demand in Jordan remains largely centralized. The concentration of employment and commerce in Amman and, to a lesser extent, other major urban centers, is an important factor to take into account. And there are many others, such as the proximity and heavy regular traffic between Amman and Zarqa. Should transport in Amman and Zarqa be planned within the context of a single metropolitan area? Maybe.

The concentration of economic activity should in some ways dictate how we think about decentralizing transport. However, we should also consider the flip side of the relationship: Empowering local authorities to improve transport networks within their boundaries can stimulate economic activity in those areas and produce wider, more equitable benefits.