Monday, September 25
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Will people make use of public transport?


Commuters cite cultural reasons being a major factor against uptake of public transportation

Muscat – With the population and daily traffic jams increasing, Oman is pressing ahead to improve its public transport system, including a plan for a metro network in Muscat. However, will commuters leave their cars at home and use public transport?

There has been much deliberation on the new public transport system to be built which is set to transform the way people commute in the city. Many say it is long overdue and that there is need to implement new ideas to avoid inconveniences and more cars on the road.

According to H E Saeed al Maawali, Minister of Transport, Communications and Information Technology, a committee has been formed for the metro project in Muscat. “The ministry is also planning to organise the taxi and truck sectors this year,” he said recently.

Mwasalat has been upgrading its buses to international standards, besides adding more buses to its fleet, so that people rely on public transport and reduce the use of light vehicles. It has stated that a single bus can replace 40 private vehicles and save energy, reduce emissions, minimise noise pollution and cut road accidents.

Currently, public transit in Muscat consists of two bus lines and a loosely regulated network of minibuses and taxis that ply the main roads. The master plan includes creating a public transit authority, expanding bus services, park-and-ride facilities and an overhaul of taxi regulations in addition to the proposed metro network.

While some welcome the idea of public transport, others say it will be difficult to convince themselves to leave their cars at home. “Public transport system in Oman is something new and I wonder how many of us will take up the idea of leaving our cars at home and go to work by public transport. I am not sure if it will be ideal to commute in public transport as long as we can afford our own vehicles,” said Hassan al Numani, a private sector employee.

Once public transport takes the desired shape and is accepted by the public, there will be a significant drop in the number of cars on the road. Most Omani households have one or more vehicles. However, cultural reasons could prevent citizens from using public transport, especially women. “The idea of public transportation is great but I don’t think the culture will change because it’s always better for women to use their own cars rather than mingle with other men. Besides, there are safety reasons. The introduction of women operated taxis, however, may solve that problem,” said Sawsan al Ajma, a bank employee.

According to commuters, the main area that requires urgent attention is the provision of reliable and efficient public transport services as a real alternative to private cars. “It’s always easy to reach anywhere you want to go with your own car, but I don’t think a public transport system can take you any where at any time. If public transport is made as convenient as our own cars, then I am sure every one would want to use it,” said commuter Musallam al Habsi.

As Muscat becomes busier and crowded, a factor that could hold the city back is its lack of an efficient public transport system. Current options are limited to shared taxis, packed mini-buses and cabs charging fares which are hard to comprehend for many.

“I find Oman in general, and Muscat in particular, having no proper public transport system. The taxis that are available need to have a regulatory authority to monitor them. I have noticed that some taxi drivers do so for extra income, sometimes charging fares as they wish. Any citizen can drive a taxi and there are chances of being charged more than the services,” said businessman Mohammed Soud.

According to Saleh al Mahrooqi, a private sector employee, the pertinent question is will commuters who have vehicles but are eager to cut fuel costs and the hassle of driving in ever increasing traffic jams actually opt to use public transport. “I think Oman needs to work on this issue of public transport. Authorities need to regulate taxis. Also, there is a need to revamp bus services to make these more accessible to every one. A metro system is another option to be considered. We must look at how other countries manage.”

The available taxi system is not friendly to women. “I am not comfortable travelling in taxis here. I feel unsafe, especially, when alone in the cab. Also, drivers charge what they want. There is no consistence in pricing. Some drivers try to engage lady passengers in nonsense talk and there is no way of reporting them to the authorities,” said an expatriate woman on the condition of anonymity.

The Municipal Council recently hosted representatives of Spanish Inco Consultant Company, assigned by the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technology for the public transport development project in the sultanate – Phase I – Muscat Governorate – to explore ways to deal with the situation.

“The company’s representatives made a presentation on their study which aims to reduce traffic jams, minimise environmental impact of the current system and enhance economic benefits by improving the public transportation system,” a Muscat Municipality official said.

“The study reviewed the scope of the work, which includes creating an integrated public transport system to serve all segments of society, the creation of a regulating mechanism, creating an integrated tariff system, and funding mechanism for the implementation of the plans proposed by the study,” he added.

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