‘Coffins on wheels’ roam Jeddah streets

Old and rundown mini buses carrying mostly expatriate workers frequent Jeddah streets

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Old and rundown mini buses carrying mostly expatriate workers frequent Jeddah streets, leading some citizens to describe these vehicles as “coffins on wheels”.

Saeed Al-Amri, a bus driver, said he has been driving for the past 20 years and it is his only source of income, but he complained the Ministry of Transport had neglected him and many of his fellow drivers.

He noted this profession is for simple people and that expatriate workers, especially African nationals, are competing with locals in driving these buses even though many of them do not have the necessary licenses or even iqamas (residence permits).

Abdullah Al-Majrashi, a bus driver, said bus owners are aware that their buses are run down but they simply cannot afford to buy new ones because their income is hardly enough to support their families.

Jaafar, another driver, said these buses have different routes but start from the Al-Balad area in Jeddah city center, from which they head east to Kilo 15, north to the industrial area, and south to the Ghulail and Al-Mahjar neighborhoods.

Sami, another bus driver, said the southern routes witness the most traffic because there are a number of markets and industries that employ expatriate workers in the area.

Hamid Awadh, a bus driver, said he increased his fare to SR3 from SR2 due to the increasing cost of living, but he believed that a one riyal increase would not make that much difference.

Alawi Saber believed fares should increase even more due to the intense competition and the traffic congestion.

Hamza, another driver, said buses are busiest between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., as many expatriates are commuting to work during this time.

Mustafa, a passenger, said he could not afford the SR20 taxi fare he would have to pay to go to work and that he has to support his family in Pakistan.

He uses these buses instead for his transportation, adding that they should be better maintained and equipped with air conditioners.

Hamdi Saud said he is always apprehensive when he uses these buses due the drivers’ recklessness.

The head of the Makkah Transport Department, Majed Hassan, said his department is still issuing licenses for these buses, which have to pass mechanical inspections and are assigned certain routes to operate on.

He added that the department conducts occasional inspections and violators are fined and they risk confiscation of their vehicles.

Spokesman for Jeddah traffic police Col. Zaid Al-Hamzi said the traffic police monitors these buses in cooperation with the Transport Department. He added that the traffic police take action over any traffic regulations these buses may violate.

Economic expert Farouk Al-Khateeb said these buses provide cheap and convenient transportation for expatriates and low-income citizens and believed that they should remain in operation.

Jeddah City Council member Bassam Akhdar said these buses are old and rundown and do not reflect a modern means of transportation.

He added that these vehicles are an environmental hazard and asked that the Transport Department issue licenses for new ones only.

"Once the new metro system becomes operational, this problem will be completely solved," he said.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on June 4, 2014.

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