Public Transport Policymaking: Stuck in Gear

recently, Jamil Mujahed was sworn in as Minister of Transport in a reshuffle of Prime Minister Hani Mulki’s cabinet. Mujahed is the fourth person to hold this office in the past 12 months, and the ninth in the last five years.

In many of my columns about public transport, I have repeatedly mentioned the need for the political will to see through the necessary transformation in Jordan’s mobility system.

Perhaps nothing like the developments of the last couple of months highlight the lack of such a will and the need for a complete paradigm shift.

First, the repeated change in ministers of transport gives the perception that the state does not view this particular ministry seriously—that the post of Minister of Transport is one that is granted as a ‘favor’. I say this with nothing against the current minister. On the contrary, Mujahed is a well-respected figure with longstanding experience in various agencies, including what is now known as the Land Transport Regulatory Commission, the Traffic Police, and the Jordan Traffic Institute. It is the lack of continuity in management that is the problem.

Second, one of the key contributions of the long-awaited, much-debated Transport Law that came into effect in mid-May has essentially been suspended. The law had stipulated that an independent fund to support passenger transport would be established, with one of its key sources of revenue being a JD0.02 levy on every liter of gasoline and diesel sold in Jordan. In its meeting on May 24, the cabinet decided to postpone the introduction of the levy. One reason cited by the government—the need to first have in place regulations and instructions that govern the new fund—may be justifiable, but indications suggest that the decision was largely political.

Third, recent leaks to the media talked about a managerial vacuum at GAM—specifically in the Amman BRT project. This came after the previous mayor had made repeated statements about having a metro system in Amman in the next eight years and after the current acting mayor had said in a gathering of business leaders that GAM essentially had “no transport strategy.” How is a metro being considered without a transport strategy? The inconsistent statements and lack of a coordinated approach towards transport at GAM is especially worrying.

Fourth, the conundrum of ride-hailing apps remains in place. Recently published regulations indicate that the government simply does not get what these apps are about. The regulations create a new, parallel category of services dubbed “smart taxis” with requirements as bizarre as installing a DVD player and screen in each car. This category is bound to suffer the same challenges currently faced by yellow taxis. Rather than leveraging the new apps to elevate the status quo, the government is essentially doing the opposite—forcing the apps to abide by the antiquated rules governing the status quo.

These are just a few examples of the current state of public transport policymaking in Jordan. It is a state in which there is no continuity in management, a lack of a cohesive strategy, and a reluctance to change the status quo—due in large part to special interests. In short, it is a state in which there are no champions for the change we need—a state in which there is no political will.

I don’t want to sound defeatist. I still believe there is potential to progress. Perhaps the King’s calls early last month for improving public transport can focus our attention. The appointment of a new minister with a solid background in public transport also offers some hope as we look ahead.