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Mon. December 05, 2022
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Public Transportation Uptake in the Arab Region: Where are the Private Car Deterrents?
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Climate change is already one of the largest threats to the Arab Region, where it is predicted to cause a general decrease in precipitation, and therefore droughts and dry spells together with longer heat waves during the summer months. (Lange, M.A, 2019) This will spell major trouble for Arab states, most of whom share a common water crisis, and will render parts of the region near uninhabitable during the peaks of the summer months. Road Travel accounts for 75% of transport emissions in CO2 terms, within the 20% of global CO2 Emissions that transport accounts for (IEA 2018), therefore finding a way to make an effective dent in this department of emissions is crucial for any climate plan in the Arab Region.

While making private vehicles more efficient, or utilizing electric cars can somewhat reduce emissions, these measures are prohibitively expensive and underwhelmingly effective when compared to public transportation. Arab states have recognized this and funded grand public transportation projects, yet the uptake of this transportation is low. Though these states are by no means a monolith, they share a notable barrier to the uptake of public transportation in the region: the pervasive “Car Culture”.

Car ownership is associated with freedom and high status, while public transport signifies lower status and a last resort; cycling and walking is rarely considered as a viable option. In Dubai, only 7% of the population uses public transport, compared to the much higher rates in London (19%), Berlin (25%) and Singapore (41%) despite some of the largest recent public transport investments in the region. (Kaiser, 2007)

What is the point of building large scale public transportation, without universal uptake of these services? There needs to be a carrot and stick approach: for every development and incentive for public transport, there must be another deterrent against private cars.

The effectiveness of deterrents in changing the “car culture” has been proved. Away from the ease of driving, many realize the benefits of public transportation, cycling and walking. The Netherlands, famous for its cycle culture, transformed only after the 1973 Oil Embargo which caused a nationwide ban of motor vehicles once a week. (Hellema, 2004) This deterrent normalized public transport and cycling, where car culture used to reign. In Lebanon, where an Oil Crisis and currency crisis have made private cars untenable, Lebanon’s “national passion for automobile ownership” (France24, 2021) has finally been successfully challenged. It is clear that disincentives, in conjunction with public infrastructure development, are required to trigger a change of this ingrained culture in the Arab Region.

There is no hope of curtailing this love of cars in the region, while they are still prioritized on the roads. Measures taking away this priority, while incentivizing public transportation, are required.

These measures can be separated into two forms, the first form is embodied in physical changes such as the replacement of car lanes with exclusive bus lanes, and the implementation of Dutch “Woonerf” continuous sidewalks. The second type of measures are of the legislative form, including the adoption of MaaS: “the integration of various forms of transport services into a single mobility service accessible on-demand” (MaaS Alliance) and greater taxation at every stage of car ownership: congestion charges, emissions taxes, fuel taxes and car import taxes with a focus on luxury cars. Other Legislative measures include lowering speed limits within city centers, traffic light priority for pedestrians and public transport in addition to halting the construction of new parking spaces.

More important than increased funding is effective funding. Large-scale projects are even less feasible than ever after the hit of the COVID pandemic. Private car deterrents are especially important given the low cost of these measures compared to new public transport infrastructure, especially with their revenue producing potential. This process requires a gradual implementation, avoiding punishing those mired in Auto-Debt, while discouraging the purchase of new cars.

In order to kickstart a revolution against the “Car Culture”, Arab leaders, politicians and even celebrities need to be seen on public transport, as well as walking and cycling. Egyptian President Sisi’s public encouragement for cycling was a positive and much needed step yet missed a valuable opportunity to normalize cycling for Arab women. There is a real stigma around women cycling and given that there is no real legal or cultural reason for this, changing it should not be controversial.

The benefits of dismantling the Arab “Car Culture” phenomenon are clear: encouraging more active lifestyle choices for a region facing an obesity crisis, decreasing air and noise pollution, increasing the freedom of movement for those without cars, as well as simply saving time for commuters. While combating climate change is of course the main focus in these changes, building a more pedestrian friendly city and improving the population’s quality of life can also be achieved through these means.

Deterrents are necessary for curbing this private car use. The fact that even President Sisi’s public push for cycling only came after budgetary pressures from the large Egyptian energy subsidies which sap nearly one-fifth of the entire Egyptian budget prove how a deterrent forced upon him made his entire government change direction.

Currently the adaptations to ease traffic, which are caused by high rates of private car use, make public transport unattractive and encourage the further uptake of private vehicles. This loop can be stopped and reversed with a momentum of public transport incentives, through development and funding, but only when paired with deterrents to private vehicle use.

Elliott J. Neal is Research Assistant at the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies and student at the University of Manchester.

 

REFERENCES:

France 24. (2021, October 20). Lebanon's Car Culture Questioned in Crisis.

            https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20211020-lebanon-s-car-culture-questioned-in-crisis

Hellema, Duco, et al. The Netherlands and the Oil Crisis: Business as Usual. Amsterdam University Press, 2004, pg. 105-113

IEA (2018), World Energy Outlook 2018, Paris

Kaiser, Jürgen, and PTV Planung Transport Verkehr AG. "Dubai public transport bus master plan: A new era of public transport services in the world's fastest developing city." Proceedings of 10th International Conference on Competition and Ownership in Land Passenger Transport. 2007.

MaaS Alliance. MAAS-Alliance | The Mobility as a Service Alliance. Retrieved December 31, 2021, https://maas-alliance.eu/

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

France 24. (2021, October 20). Lebanon's Car Culture Questioned in Crisis.

            https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20211020-lebanon-s-car-culture-questioned-in-crisis

Hellema, Duco, et al. The Netherlands and the Oil Crisis: Business as Usual. Amsterdam University Press, 2004, pg. 105-113

IEA (2018), World Energy Outlook 2018, Paris

Jiang, Y., Zhou, Z. & Liu, C. The impact of public transportation on carbon emissions: a panel quantile analysis based on Chinese provincial data. Environ Sci Pollut Res 26, 4000--4012 (2019).

Kaiser, Jürgen, and PTV Planung Transport Verkehr AG. "Dubai public transport bus master plan: A new era of public transport services in the world's fastest developing city." Proceedings of 10th International Conference on Competition and Ownership in Land Passenger Transport. 2007.

Ken Livingstone Mayor of London. The challenge of driving through change: Introducing congestion charging in central London, Planning Theory & Practice, 5:4, 2004, 490-498

Kraay, Joop. Woonerven and Other Experiments in the Netherlands, Built Environment, 1986, 20--29

Lange, M.A. Impacts of Climate Change on the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East and North Africa Region and the Water--Energy Nexus. Atmosphere 2019, 10, 455.

MaaS Alliance. MAAS-Alliance | The Mobility as a Service Alliance. Retrieved December 31, 2021 https://maas-alliance.eu/

Victor Barros, et al. Is taxation being effectively used to promote public transport in Europe, Transport Policy, Volume 114, 2021, Pages 215-224

 

 

 

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