The Road Not Taken
In three years of political turmoil and economic drift, Jordan has seen plenty of error. The decision to kill the Amman Bus Rapid Transit system is one such mistake. Hazem Zureiqat looks at the project’s inception. What went wrong and where do we go from here?
ost of us have seen the abandoned two kilometers of bus lanes along Queen Rania Street. They are part of an ambitious 32-kilometer network of bus rapid transit (BRT). The Amman BRT project, known in Arabic as Al-Baas Al-Saree, has been a hot topic in the media and among the residents of Amman. Much has been said on the project and where it stands today, but truly understanding this particular issue requires taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. From Roundabouts To Rapid Transit Urban transport planning, in its comprehensive and multi-modal context, has never really been part of the public discourse and policymaking in our part of the world. Some would even argue that this is the case for other forms of planning, be they physical or otherwise, but the absence of proper transport planning has been especially palpable in our oilrich region.


It is not hard to make out how this longstanding approach to doing things (or not doing them) has manifested itself in Amman. The city today is marred by countless bridges and tunnels. Sidewalks are, for the most part, ineffective, and pedes-

holds with fairly low levels of income. At the same time, more than half of the city’s population is under the age of 25; add to that the increasing rate of female participation in the labor force, and what you get is nothing short of an explosion

The city today [Amman] is marred by countless bridges and tunnels. Sidewalks are, for the most part, ineffective, and pedestrian crossings are virtually non-existent. Public transport is in disarray…
trian crossings are virtually non-existent. Public transport is in disarray, with over 70% of the fleet comprising of small service taxis or Coaster buses, many of which are individually owned and operated. With the rapid population growth the city has experienced, the size of our fleet of large buses remained constant between 2000 and 2010, after which an additional 116 buses were introduced. Meanwhile, car ownership levels in the city are increasing by an alarming 10% to 15% per year, even among housein future transport demand that no road widening, bridge or tunnel would be able to accommodate. So, how did we get here? Firstly, we have been relying for too long on cheap oil from our neighbors, so building roads and importing more cars was the way to go, not just in Amman, but at the national level as well. Secondly, the institutional set-up was not designed to give the right incentives for policymakers at the municipal and national levels to think more systemically. In Amman, traffic engineering and operations tasks, in addition to spatial and land-use planning, fell under the responsibilities of the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM), while public transport planning and regulation was under a different entity working at the national level, the Land Transport Regulatory Commission. Coordinating both functions was not easy across different bureaucracies. Today, things have changed. We no longer have access to cheap oil – or at least not to the same extent as we did prior to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh recently reiterated this point in an interview on Jor-

Rendering of GAM’s solution for the Press Tunnel. The BRT lanes will run on a raised structure above the tunnel and will then pass the intersection at street level. A BRT station will be located at the intersection.




dan Television’s 60 Minutes. The premier cited the large number of cars that enter the Kingdom each year, adding that meeting the energy bill has become Jordan’s primary economic challenge.

As the outcomes of the TMMP began to emerge, it became clear that the city erations plan for the system (in terms of needed a higher order, namely a more number of buses required, frequencies rapid public transport mode. Several op- of service, etc.). This would be followed tions were analyzed, and BRT emerged by estimating the demand and revenue The weak institutional set-up – the as the preferred option for Amman due forecasts and operating costs; preparing second reason listed above – has been addressed and we now have the right BRT is a term used to describe public transport framework to think and plan in a more systems in which buses run on a segregated rightintegrated fashion. In 2007, planning and regulation of public transportation of-way, essentially offering a service similar to that of within Amman became part of GAM’s trains (but clearly, at a fraction of the cost). responsibilities, and today GAM has one integrated Transportation Planning to its low cost, effectiveness and relative an economic feasibility study and an enDepartment that deals with all modes ease of implementation given the city’s vironmental impact assessment; and fiof transport, from private cars to pub- hilly terrain. BRT is a term used to de- nally, developing the detailed engineerlic transportation and pedestrians. More scribe public transport systems in which ing designs for the infrastructure, from and more, decision makers and staff at buses run on a segregated right-of-way, bus lanes to stations and terminals. Focus GAM are becoming well aware that the essentially offering a service similar to groups were held to obtain a better unproblem in Amman is about moving that of trains (but, clearly, at a fraction derstanding of the problems people face people and goods, not just cars, and that of the cost). A BRT lane in Amman can when using different modes of transport. our transport system needs to be more accommodate more than three times An additional survey was carried out at balanced and multi-modal and should be the number of people in a regular traf- the University of Jordan, one of the key planned accordingly – all while taking fic lane. BRT was first implemented in nodes along the BRT network, to ascerinto consideration changes in land use Curitiba, Brazil in 1974, and has since tain what students felt they needed in a been successfully constructed in over new public transport system. and zoning.

After conducting a thorough financial audit for the municipality, the AFD and GAM signed a credit facility agreement under which the AFD would provide a $166 million loan to GAM to fund the construction of infrastructure for the Amman BRT.
The question becomes then: what has happened since the institutional changes of 2007? GAM developed a Transport and Mobility Master Plan (TMMP) that outlined the city’s mobility needs for the period leading up to 2025. The study involved conducting a survey of around 10,000 households to assess their transport behavior. That survey, along with extensive traffic and public transport data collection across the city, created a rich database that formed the basis of the Amman transport model, a powerful planning tool that integrates transport, land use and socio-economic data. 120 cities worldwide. Often cited as one of the most successful examples, the BRT system in Bogotá, Colombia, has a current capacity of 45,000 passengers per hour in each direction, which is higher than the capacity of most metro systems worldwide. Amman BRT And The Perfect Storm In early 2009, GAM commissioned a comprehensive study to develop the BRT scheme for the city. The study aimed to first validate the BRT network developed under the TMMP and then to develop the complete service and op-

As the economic and financial appraisal of the BRT began, work on developing the infrastructure design was undertaken in parallel. It was clear at the outset that the engineering design of a 32-kilometer network of exclusive bus lanes would be a challenge given the large number of grade-separated intersections (i.e. intersections with multiple levels) in Amman. Starting that process early on was, therefore, essential. As is the case with such complex projects, an iterative approach was adopted, so designs were constantly discussed and revised as work on other streams progressed. Contrary to what many seem to believe, intersections such as the Press Tunnel and Sports City were tackled early on. Alternative solutions were analyzed based on various criteria, such as the level of BRT priority, accessibility to




Rendering of the BRT station by the University of Jordan. This is the only underground station along the 32-km network. passengers, construction costs and impact on traffic during both construction and operations. Throughout this entire process, the French Development Agency (AFD) was heavily involved in the appraisal of the project to ensure its feasibility, both economically and financially. After conducting a thorough financial audit for the municipality, the AFD and GAM signed a credit facility agreement under which the AFD would provide a $166 million loan to GAM to fund the construction of infrastructure for the Amman BRT. This was a soft loan that was offered directly to GAM with no sovereign guarantee from the Government of Jordan. It demonstrated AFD’s faith in the project and in GAM’s ability to pay off the loan in due course. of events. In May 2011, some members of parliament called for the BRT to be suspended. Some said it was a “failure” while others deemed it “unsuitable for Amman”. At the end of following month, then prime minister Marouf Bakhit formed a ministerial committee to reassess the project. During the same period, a number of media outlets, including a prominent daily newspaper, attacked the project as a corrupt and failed endeavor. The Audit Bureau, which had previously offered its seal of approval along various stages of the project, issued a report saying the BRT was “not feasible”. Not surprisingly, since the report was issued by an entity whose responsibilities never included preparing feasibility studies, the report lacked the basic elements of such studies and was erroneous in many respects, according to technical staff at GAM. September 10, 2011, to temporarily suspend all construction works on the project pending further independent review. As of the date of this writing, this review has yet to take place. It is difficult to frame such a bizarre turn of events within a rational context. Developments across the region took policymakers in Jordan by surprise. The decision-making process, already distorted at the time due to the lack of political reforms, became even more crippled. A haphazard fight against corruption put everyone and everything under question, creating an environment in which decision makers opted for stalling or adopting a more populist approach rather than performing their managerial duties as public officials.

The Audit Bureau, which had previously offered its seal of approval along various stages of the project, issued a report saying the BRT was “not feasibale”.
After detailed designs were completed for some sections along the BRT network, GAM began tendering out construction works. Construction of the first two kilometers along Queen Rania Street began in July 2010, and was completed the following year. As the first package of BRT was being constructed, there was an unexpected turn

The Amman BRT and perhaps GAM as an institution were easy targets. The biggest losers in all of this, however, are the people of Amman. Our ability to move around the city is at stake, and we Meanwhile, the ministerial committee should not remain silent. conducted a comprehensive review over the course of two months, looking at Hazem Zureiqat is a transport consultant technical, financial and environmental working for Engicon, a multidisciplinary aspects of the project. It issued a very engineering consulting firm based in positive assessment of the scheme and Amman. Prior to joining Engicon, clearly stated that there was no evidence he was part of GAM’s core transport of corruption. This assessment was sent planning team. Zureiqat can be to the Cabinet of Ministers, which issued reached at mail@hazem.me or on Twitter a very brief, weasel-worded decision on at @hazem

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