A New Chance for Change

Improving transport services was a central component in the new government’s letter of designation and policy statement. Could this provide the sector with much-needed new momentum?

Ever since he took office following the recent anti-austerity protests, Prime Minister Omar Razzaz has repeatedly said his government would focus on improving key public services such as education, healthcare, and transport.

This is not the first time a prime minister has singled out transport as a policy priority. However, the widespread sense of cautious optimism surrounding Razazz and his reputation as a progressive reformer has raised hopes that this renewed attention to the sector could bear fruit.

Over the past five years little progress has been made in developing transport policy. No less than 10 transport ministers have come and gone over this period. The passenger transport support fund that should have been established as stipulated by a new law also never materialized. The will to create a paradigm shift in the way we deal with mobility was just not there. Perhaps there was even a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of such a shift, as evidenced by former Prime Minister Hani Mulki’s statements on car ownership earlier this year.

Today the new government has an opportunity to move things forward with transport. To ensure that change is impactful and sustainable, the steps that must be taken should address the root issues and take into account the holistic nature of mobility. To draw a parallel with the subject of taxation, Razzaz rightly pointed out that the response to the recent protests should not simply be a revision of the draft Income Tax Law but, rather, the entire structure of taxation with all its components. Similarly, addressing transport is not about moving forward with the BRT construction or raising taxes on cars, it’s about much more than that.

Some concrete steps that can be taken by the new government in the coming period include:

  1. Create a centralized framework to push forward the Kingdom’s ambitious transport program: There are several entities that are responsible for planning, regulation, construction and maintenance, operations, and enforcement. While having multiple entities is fine, it is important—at least at this stage when a true paradigm shift is needed—to create a centralized framework in which these entities closely coordinate to advance the ambitious transport program set forth in the many strategies and plans prepared by the government.
  2. To finally establish the planned passenger transport support fund: The fund must be set up to provide a proper mechanism for much-needed subsidies for public transport. It will also serve as a vehicle to finance future transport infrastructure projects.
  3. Move forward with infrastructure projects: The government must aggressively move forward with the Amman BRT and Amman-Zarqa BRT—not only in terms of construction, but also in ensuring the right operating environment is in place before the new systems are operational. It is also essential to plan beyond those two projects, as they will only address a very small part of the problem.