by gulfnews 0 Joseph A. Kechichian, Senior Writer - Beirut: It takes Mansour Khalife a good two hours to reach the
Lebanese capital from the city of Jounieh given the unprecedented
traffic chaos prevailing in the country. “I promise to light a
candle to Mar Charbel [the country’s venerated Maronite patron saint]
the day I reach my shop in an hour,” Khalife, a salesman who works in
downtown Beirut, told Gulf News. Khalife’s car is among the 1.6 million registered vehicles taking to Lebanon’s roads every day. That
figure does not include cars not registered in Lebanon, which has
swelled due to the massive number of Syrians who have filtered into the
country due to the civil war in their land. Chronic congestion and
lack of parking have always plagued the country, but a growing
population coupled with the influx of Syrians has made the situation
now make up a quarter of the population, bringing the total population
to around 6 million, up from 4 million. This figure does not take into
account the country’s one million Palestinian refugees and 750,000
foreign workers who are not counted in national census figures. Hundreds
of thousands of commuters who drive to Beirut every day complain that
they waste precious hours of their life behind the wheel. To
alleviate the growing burden on the roads, governor Ziad Chebib promised
to reveal a new plan to revamp the city’s public transport system
within weeks. However the promise has not excited Lebanese due to
many past pledges that have not materialised — a plan for a metro and
light-rail system have been floated. The absence of an effective public transit system has only made Lebanese more dependent on cars.
2015, the last year for which statistics are available, 39,361 new
passenger cars were sold in Lebanon, up by an annual 4.1 per cent, which
brought the state over $500 million (Dh1.83 billion) in excise taxes,
cars registration fees, and cars control fees. Few Lebanese take
public buses due the danger associated with navigating the country’s
haphazard roads combined with the reckless drivers to whom they would
perforce have to entrust their safety. Lebanon records more than 6
million automobile passenger trips each day, up from 2.8 million in
2007 and 1.7 million in 1995, according to statistics from the Ministry
of Public Works and Transport.
A 2012 American University of
Beirut study confirmed the existence of a “deep-rooted need for an
effective public transportation system as a competitive alternative to
automobile dependency”. The Council for Development and Reconstruction —
the supra-national body in charge of everything after the civil war —
failed to heed calls for urgent action, which is the primary reason why
traffic jams are now the norm.
Earlier this month, a high-ranking
World Bank Group visiting Beirut earmarked $200 million for upgrading
Lebanon’s road network, which the international institution perceived as
a “risk to public safety as well as an impediment to urban-rural
development and equitable economic growth”.
This was not the first
time that such resources were allocated to repair around 500 kilometres
of roads in the first phase of a broader government plan to revamp the
country’s crumbling road infrastructure, though Lebanon requires all the
help it can get.
But Lebanon’s infrastructure does not lend
itself to support such ambitious reconstruction plans. Already, there
are not nearly enough parking lots to deal with the growing pool of cars
in the country.
Many are desperately hoping that the latest World
Bank commitment of $510 million to assist the government will
rehabilitate the existing road networks, improve road safety, and lead
to purchase of equipment for emergency repairs.
But Mohammad Qansu, a taxi driver, is pessimistic.
“Our traffic jams will be fixed in 8,888 years,” he said.