transport woes

Amman’s Transport Woes: Managing Expectations of the BRT

The BRT has come to be viewed by some as the be-all, end-all solution to Amman’s transport woes. In reality, the project is only the first step in a long journey ahead. Its significance is more in what it represents to the city rather than the transportation function it provides.

When GAM hired a consultant in 2009 to prepare the feasibility study, design, and construction documents for the Amman bus rapid transit (BRT) system, the intention had been to complete construction works and get buses on the road by 2012. Demand forecasts, financial estimates, and service plans were produced based on that intention and based on Amman’s projected population for that year.

Today, six years after that planned start date, almost 10 years after the project’s conception, and with close to a million more people in Amman, we’re still far from seeing any BRT buses roaming the city’s streets. There have been many delays and hiccups along the way that have pushed the launch date to, according to the Mayor’s recent statements, “the first quarter of 2020.”

That said, we are finally witnessing some momentum on several fronts. Construction is well underway, and GAM is getting ready to appoint a transaction advisor to begin the process of finding an operator. The municipality is also coordinating with the government to integrate the Amman BRT with the planned Amman-Zarqa BRT.

These developments are all positive, but they should not make us lose sight of the fact that the system will begin operating eight years (if not more) behind schedule. The Amman BRT—or, more specifically, the 25-kilometer-long Phase 1 of the Amman BRT—will certainly improve conditions for current public transport users along the system’s corridors. It will reduce travel times and provide a more reliable service for those users.

And that’s about it—at least in terms of changing transportation conditions on the ground.

I say this because some have come to view the Amman BRT as the be-all, end-all solution to Amman’s transport woes. When asked about transportation challenges in the city, officials often cite the BRT and boast of the various construction packages being tendered out without offering much beyond that.

These perceptions and attitudes towards the BRT are bound to set unrealistically high expectations for the project.

With the changing circumstances (most notably population growth) and the delays that the project has experienced, the impact of Phase 1 of the Amman BRT lies more, in my opinion, in what the project represents to the city rather than the transportation function it provides.

In a sense, the project’s significance at this point is more symbolic than practical.

The Amman BRT will showcase what it means for the city to have a high quality, modern public transport system that runs on its own dedicated right-of-way. It will offer Ammanis a glimpse of how mobility can change in their city, and it will garner the support and buy-in for future transportation projects that may include more BRT, rail, or even more conventional modes.

And it is precisely these future projects that we should start planning for and working on. The mobility system in Amman is so unbalanced towards favoring the private car, and public transport is so lacking that we cannot just bet on a BRT system—as important as it is—to solve our problems. With rapidly increasing population, car ownership rates, and traffic congestion levels, thinking beyond the BRT becomes all the more urgent.