19 October, 2008

Responding on Jordan Business Magazine's public transportation Cover Story

This month's Jordan Business magazine had an interesting Cover Story about Public Transportation by Zaina Steityeh. That went to tackle several domains in the public transportation. But i felt like commenting on the parts talking about urban public transportation in Amman.

1st of all, I would like to talk a bit about the GAM taking over the control of public transportation in Amman. Which is indeed a move in the right way, as traffic and transportation have been always connected together from an urban point of view, and where-ever you go in this world, you'd always find urban public transportation always in the hand of the city municipalities, both as a regulator and operator, something which is not yet implemented in Amman, despite the fact that the GAM has 13% of the CMTC, the biggest operators in the capital Amman, but they don't really have so-called “weight” in that, and on the contrary, the owners of the CMTC are using that for their benefit, just like when the CMTC tried to convince the GAM to do a “special recommendation” to the licensing department to let them accept the 15 Convema buses (Convema is a non existing brand by the way), which were produced at the free zone by a sister company owned as well by Abu Khader Group, without having ABS (which is a requirement for licensing buses) nor any other minimal safety requirements, and which were put on the black-list by the licensing department. Unfortunately, the buses were licensed accordingly and are operating for a while now. And maybe this story would justify the unnamed source that told the story writer, quoting: “When it's separate, the regulatory body doesn't have a direct link to the bottom line of the operation and will, therefore, not be tempted to take shortcuts, overlook safety precautions or take cost-cutting measures at the expense of the final consumer. Out citizen”.

Anyway, fortunately, this was the only bad effect we have witnessed until the moment from the GAM taking over the regulation of Public Transportation in Amman. On the other hand, we have witnessed a lot of efficiency in planning, especially in the fact that the GAM got convinced that traffic problems should be solved by having a better organized, managed, and attractive urban public transportation (something i have been saying since 2005 anyway!), and that the GAM is willing finally to have a multi-dimensional public transportation, by creating a new backbone of BRT and LRT services. As well as efficiency in other minor things, like re-pricing, when the fuel prices went up, in comparison with the PTRC for example.

Despite that, we are still facing another kind of duplicability in the sector which wasn't mentioned in the article, when it comes to short routes that start from Amman, cross a big part of Amman, and head towards end of routes outside it. As those routes serve a lot of people moving inside Amman, while they are still in the hand of PTRC, and people have no other choice but use those means of transport. Simple examples are the Zarqa buses which are the only ones serving areas like Tabarbour and Marka when trying to head to/from there towards University of Jordan and Western Amman. As well as Raghadan-Salt and Raghadan-Baqaa routes. So we are having routes on main corridors in Amman, serving quite big numbers of people, and are still regulated by the PTRC. Ironically, some of those routes are even served for example by the CMTC which the GAM has a share of 13%!

Moving forward in the article towards the “Diffused Ownership” section. Diffused Ownership might be a headache and problem causer in the sector in general, something i totally agree, especially when it comes to poor routes that link some towns/cities to more remote areas, but the experience showed that companies ownership of routes is not that much better when it comes to urban public transportation. To be more precise, no single company handling urban (or part-urban) public transportation is doing it well, a part from the CMTC (which i will be talking about later), there are also other companies operating their routes in bad manners, with very “rubbished” and unmannered-unmaintained buses, quite very good examples are the very famous Raghadan-Salt buses which are owned by a company called: “Abu Rajouh & Abu Haswa & Co”, Yes! despite being medium sized buses, or so-called “Coaster” buses, those notably dirty, unmaintained, and always with a black cloud coming out of their exhausts buses on this route are ALL owned by a company that cares only to push their vehicles to the limit in order to raise their income! Similar examples are “Ahmad Abul S'oud & Hamad Abu Zaid Co” famous for operating in eastern Amman areas, as well as the very famous rubbished Zarqa buses moving towards most of Amman's areas owned by “Armouti, Ghweiri, & Sawalha Co”. As well as several others. All of those are not owned by individual bus owners, but all of us are having problems with them as bus users, especially when it comes to buses maintenance and safety, as well as quality of service, and non-commitment to routes in some cases, and lets totally forget about schedules and peak hours jams! Thus, I guess that the GAM and PTRC should 1st solve us our problems with those “Fat ownerships” that care only about rapid profit, then start saying Diffused ownership is a problem. And I would have liked it if Zaina Steityeh came down out of her car to the streets, and try some of those operators bad service, and compare it for example to quality bus services provided by a lot of organized Individual Bus owners, just like those operating on routes like Sweileh-Wadi Al-Seer, and Sweileh-Dakhelieh Circle. Routes on which individual bus drivers and owners have agreed on organized service and queuing (with frequencies that reach 1 bus/minute in peak times even!), and routes on which over 90% of the buses are always clean and tidy, and routes like the 2nd mentioned where buses operate up late to 11 PM and beyond 12 midnight in holidays!

I agree, however, with Mr Qudah's point when it comes to Diffused Ownerships in the trucking sector, and i guess that the Ministry of Transport should encourage small and medium projects in this sector to try eliminating diffused ownerships in it. Good models to follow are the ones in Turkey & Eastern European countries, where small & medium companies with 10-15 trucks have a range of operation that reach the shores of the Atlantic! I don't want to get deeper into this at the moment though.

Last but not least, I want to comment on the information mentioned about the CMTC, mainly by its CEO, Mr Moayad Tarawneh, who, with all respect, is either so stupid to know what is really going on in that company behind him, or think that we are all so stupid to know what is going in there in that company by the company's owners he is facading!

What kind of effect does “Diffused Ownership” has on CMTC bad management of operation, as almost at any time in the day, you can find buses of their company roaming empty, to i don't know where, and their drivers refusing to stop and carryout people! (Oh! Or is it that the GAM is paying half of the raise in diesel prices, so to hell with the GAM's money!). And how does “Diffused Ownership” effect the messiness and non existence of scheduled services, and the miserable situation of their buses! And how does “Diffused Ownership” effect a route such as “Raghadan-Sweileh” that they tried to start, with buses leaving once every 40-50 minutes, and that start operating after the end of morning jam at around 9 AM and stop operating before 5 PM!

1st of all, the system they bough with over 1.5 million dollars, which is a combination of fleet tracking and electronic smart-card fare-collection system. Is already late for over 1 year and 4 months now. And its not up and running yet! And wont even be entirely up! As it will be limited to the electronic smart-card fare-collection part, without the fleet tracking part! Noting that over 130 buses (the ones inherited from Asia Transport Co.) were already running a very efficient smart card fare-collection system, with re-chargeable RFID cards, POS charging units, & card validators in all those buses. All of that ever since 2001, and i was my self a heavy user of those as well as tens of thousands others, including my 4 years campus life! So, it wasn't something “we were just dreaming of”, and the CMTC could have just extended the already existing investment by adding more POS and bus validators in their fleet! While when it comes to the fleet tracking part, which i am repeating again IS NOT RUNNING, just in the summer of 2007, the CMTC were offered a “Public Transportation Information System” that enabled entire real-time fleet tracking, automated and dynamic bus scheduling, automated remote control, and Dynamic real time Passenger Information in bus stations and through mobile and internet service, all at less than 30% of the costs they bought this system & up within 4 months, and was REFUSED by the company owners “The Abu Khader's”, claiming that the turkish 1.5 million $ system will be up and no-time, and that they are not in need of all those “extra features”!

Interesting, isn't it!

While on the other hand, since the CMTC are paying 3500 Euro/each digital bus display, can they at least properly turn them ON! The screens installed on their new buses are very unsuitable in shiny conditions, are MOSTLY turned OFF! Malfunctioned! Or simply showing a WRONG ROUTE other than the ones the bus is operating on! While the Yellow displays installed in older buses (Mostly on the ones inherited from Asia Transport Co) are way much better, though they are sometimes malfunctioned or simply turned off!

Thus, the CMTC's investment is wasted as pure as that! Absolutely everything Mr Tarawneh claimed in this interview to be exclusively done by the CMTC is done in a wrong way! I wonder if Mr Tarawneh ever tried even to spend a whole day on his fleet to see how easily can his white shirt capture the dirt in the bus, how some buses have rain dripping from their ceiling in winter, how he can be late at work because his oldest 1999 buses “that he thinks are still pretty new” move in a speed of 25 KMs/h while he is standing near the backseat of the bus with half of the bus's fumes spreading inside the bus, how he would have his head hitting in the ceiling of the bus's door while trying to hope off the new 2008 Mercedes buses which were built by Elba with wrong dimensions and standards, how he can wait in front of his office in Mecca Street waiting for a bus that almost never comes, or a bus that just goes under the Al-Kilo intersection in the tunnel ignoring the masses waiting regularly at the bus stop from where the bus should actually pass, or try to squeeze in between the students in a full bus going From or To the Hashemite University! That his company is serving!
Or even at least spend a day at the so-called maintenance centers where “Consumed Motor Oils” from other AK Automotive centers are used as fresh oil for CMTC's buses.

& can he just name me the so-claimed 42 routes the CMTC is operating! & tell us which are actually running, and which are just fake-outs on the paper!!

Again, its either that he is stupid, or thinks we are stupid, both cases, he is just an employee and a facade that hides out the company owners. & I mentioned also that he made a couple of mistakes in his interview, 1st, the GAM owns 13% of the CMTC and not 20%, the 2nd is the fact that the CMTC is a so-called “consortium” of 3 companies and not 4! which are Al-Thelal (owned by Abu Khader Automotive), Al-Tawfeek (which was also bought by Al-Thelal about a month before the creation of the CMTC), and Asia Transport Co., whose owner withdrew from the company awhile ago because of loads of managerial problems in the way the Abu Khader's where leading the CMTC. So mainly its a takeover not a consortium.

I would have wished if the story owner, Zaina Steityeh, would have investigated more on what is really going on in the streets and on the ground when it comes to urban public transportation, instead of having just some rosy statements for some people that, maybe, never tried to use urban public transportation inside Amman! & maybe even tried to have several rides her self!

Anyway, thank you for the interesting cover story, without it i might not had even wrote this long response that is almost as long as the story it self :)

Conclusion: Will Jordan Ever Get the Public Transportation System it Deserves?
I hope so, but nothing on the ground so far!

1 comment:

bambam said...

This is just one hell of an informative response .... hell it should warrant a warning message for the article in jordan business that reads "this article is actually an ad, only to be read by the most skeptical"
hip hip hooray for lazy journalism