Lebanese citizens are struggling to find room on crushed public transportation buses with the number of vehicles on the roads cut because of the fuel crisis. The taxi business is also suffering.
“Almost 85 percent of taxi drivers have stopped working, and the rest of them are still operating but aren’t able to make much money under the current economic circumstances,” Marwan Fayad, head of the Public Transportation Drivers Union, told Al Arabiya English.
Fayad explained that cab drivers in Lebanon relied on students and office employees, but schools, universities, and most businesses shifted to remote work.
Gasoline prices in Lebanon increased 66 percent, and diesel prices rose 77 percent in the last five months, according to the Beirut-based research group, the Gherbal initiative.
The national taxi association has asked the government for an emergency budget but has not received an answer. Fayad said the situation is “catastrophic.”
He is not the only one to describe the problem in such drastic terms.
“Today, all industries are suffering as the Lebanese Lira value has dropped significantly, and buying a car nowadays is impossible for average Lebanese citizens, which would push more people in non-coronavirus and dire economic times to use public transports,” Pierre al-Khoury, a public affairs researcher and member of the Board of Directors of the Lebanese Economic Association, told Al Arabiya English. “Unfortunately people can’t afford either.”
“Lebanese citizens were able to buy cars through long-term loans that the banks funded; thus, the government allocated no funds to public transport, resulting in extensive traffic and air pollution.”
Al-Khoury explained that public transport in Lebanon is primarily provided by taxis and microbuses. An increased number of these vehicles are not adequately regulated, resulting in high operational and maintenance costs. These costs include fuel consumption, taxes, insurance, and car service.
As a result, public transport workers and many other vulnerable groups are struggling to make ends meet.
“In August 1895, the first steam train departed from Beirut and traveled through the Bekaa Valley towards Rayak Station, near the border with today's Syria. It was the golden age of rail transport in Lebanon.” Carlos Naffah, president of Train/Train Lebanon, an NGO advocating for Lebanese railway rehabilitation and railway heritage preservation told Al Arabiya English.
“Lebanon’s railway once connected Beirut to Damascus, Syria, and Haifa, but has ceased operation after Lebanon's civil war.”
Naffah highlighted that more than one hundred years ago, railways connected the French port of Marseille to the port of Beirut as part of what is known as the Levant gate. French investment brought rail service to life backed by Swiss, German, and French technologies.
According to Naffah, the solution for the public mobility issue is simply a sustainable public transport system featuring a national railway supporting the country's demographic and economic growth which could be done through currency board and transparency.
In an attempt to defend riders’ fundamental rights and encourage the use of the existing bus and van network as one of the primary means of mobility while building incremental alternatives or solutions for the sector, a local initiative surfaced.