Decent, reliable and affordable public transportation has become a pressing issue for countries worldwide. Most local governments struggle to provide this as it is expensive, and in the case of underground systems entails investments that run in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Both Saudi Arabia and Brazil are facing challenges in this area. In the Kingdom, it is mainly women who suffer from the lack of decent public transportation systems, as men usually are able to buy themselves cars and drive themselves to wherever they want to go.
Women are hostages of male relatives or overpriced private drivers. A recent suggestion by working Saudi women, that companies or malls that employ them provide them with free transportation in the form of buses or vans, is an excellent idea that these companies should heartily embrace as their contribution to the development of Saudi society.
Here in Brazil public transport is precarious and overpriced. Most rides on public buses in Brasilia cost at least R$3 (SR4.97), while the minimum salary is R$724 (SR1,200) a month. Buses are always jammed to capacity at peak hours and sometimes take hours to show up, leaving commuters waiting for long times at bus stops. A Brazilian friend of mine who was temporarily without his car and was forced to use the public bus system told me of repeatedly waiting for an hour to get on a bus.
“I saw and felt for myself how the poorer Brazilians suffer everyday using buses,” he told me after his experience.
Like in Saudi Arabia, anyone in Brazil who can afford a car quickly opts out of the public transport system as soon as they can.
This stems partly from the mistake that both the Saudi and Brazilian local authorities make in not promoting the use of public transportation systems. Car manufacturers are also to blame, pressuring our governments to give them advantages in order to boost their sale, which discourages the use of public transport. Thankfully a metro is being built in Riyadh and a high-speed train line between Makkah and Madinah, via Jeddah, is also being built. These are excellent projects that will give travelers options other than driving in private cars or flying.
When I studied for a year at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah in 1982-83 I used SAPTCO buses to go to the campus everyday as I did not know how to drive yet and did not have enough money to hire a private driver.
I vividly remember that they had sectioned-off areas in the back for women only. Perhaps they could start running public buses that were for women only, that way they would provide affordable and safe public transportation for women who need to go to work or go out shopping and cannot afford a private driver. Even here in Brasilia there are women-only carriages on the metro in order to provide a safe environment for them where they won’t be subjected to harassment from men.
I must admit to driving my own car here in Brasilia, but sometimes the road rage and lack of parking spaces is very frustrating. The metro does not reach the area I live in and the buses are not very good. If I had decent public transportation handy I would certainly use it more and leave my car at home sometimes.
Studies have shown that reducing parking spaces at malls and other public places actually improves traffic as this forces people to either carpool or use public transportation.
We need to urgently rethink our public transportation systems and come up with new solutions. Throwing more cars onto our already congested motorways is certainly not the way to go.
- The writer is a Saudi journalist based in Brazil.