App looks to plug gaps in Jordan’s transport system

Rahmeh Abu Shweimeh co-founded RideAct, a mobile app designed to reduce traffic and provide real-time updates on transport in Jordan.
Updated 12 January 2018
0

App looks to plug gaps in Jordan’s transport system

LONDON: Late-running public transport may be a fact of life in Jordan — but one entrepreneur has been quick to embrace new technology to help ease the morning commute.
Plans to arrive for work on time are frequently thwarted by a bus leaving half an hour late, taxi drivers refusing certain destinations or heavy traffic.
Wary of this, 24-year-old Rahmeh Abu Shweimeh co-founded RideAct, a mobile app designed to reduce traffic and provide real-time updates on transport around the country.
“I only got my driver’s license two years ago and know what a pain public transport here is for anyone who relies on it,” said Shweimeh, who works at an insurance company in Amman.
“Even if you pay a lot of money for a cab, you don’t get decent services in exchange — this is what pushed me to think about finding a solution to make transportation easier, faster, more reliable and safer for everyone in Jordan.”
For women in particular, public transport presents a host of difficulties, to the extent that some are hindered from joining the workforce altogether. Harassment on buses and in taxis is a major problem and as a result many feel unsafe traveling alone, Shweimeh said.
Meanwhile the delays and unreliability of a haphazard service affect everyone, making traveling around a capital choked with cars a source of daily frustration for commuters trying to reach their destination at the appointed time.
“Being late here is the norm ... it’s impossible to be punctual using public transport,” Shweimeh added.
RideAct hopes to address this by creating a carpooling community that offers Jordanians access to an efficient, reliable and affordable transport service.
It’s part of a growing trend among Jordanians who, tired of waiting for the government to follow through on overdue transport projects, are developing their own technology solutions to solve mobility issues affecting their everyday lives.
“Using tech to improve the user experience on public transport in Jordan is one of the low-hanging fruits that we haven’t really taken advantage of,” said transport consultant Hazem Zureiqat.
“It doesn’t cost much, it’s readily available and it can have an impact on the user experience without having to invest too much in infrastructure and building new systems.”
One of the mentors behind Shweimeh’s project, Zureiqat is the co-founder of Ma’an Nasel (arriving together), a public transport advocacy group which last year produced the first public transport map for Amman, compiled by volunteers using their smartphones to track routes around the city.
The resulting map addressed one of the major shortfalls for users trying to navigate Amman’s chaotic transport system — the lack of information available on routes for buses and shared white taxis as well as the location of stops and stations.
However the map has no way of warning users if their bus has taken a different route that day or, as often happens, the service is delayed because the driver waited at the stop for more people to board in order to extract the most fares possible before proceeding.
That’s where RideAct comes in. The app, which is available on iOS and Android, allows users to post real-time feedback on their journeys and comment on route disruptions, poor-quality service and wait times.
However the most popular feature, Shweimeh believes, will be the carpooling option because it will provide the majority of Jordanians who can’t afford private services like Uber and Careem with access to an affordable means of mobility that eliminates the inconvenience of relying on public transport services.
Though still in its early phases, with technical glitches to iron out and more funding to raise, RideAct aims to redress some of the flaws in Jordan’s transport system and, hopefully, inspire more Jordanian entrepreneurs to come up with creative solutions to their mobility woes.
But their success is contingent on government support, Zureiqat says, which hasn’t always been forthcoming.
“People have a big role to play but there needs to be some minimum level of support to facilitate and help deploy the solutions they come up with.”


Young Iraqis use innovation to make a living in oil-rich south

Updated 32 min 21 sec ago
0

Young Iraqis use innovation to make a living in oil-rich south

  • The job market for Iraqi youths has become starkly different in the post-Saddam Hussein era
  • In the decade which followed the US invasion and the dictator’s ouster in 2003, authorities continued to increase state hirings — with a heavy dose of nepotism

BASRA: From a roving cafe to scrap metal sculptures, young Iraqis unable to tap into the country’s oil wealth are having to find creative ways to make a living.
While their parents generally went straight into public sector jobs after graduation, the job market for Iraqi youths has become starkly different in the post-Saddam Hussein era.
In the decade which followed the US invasion and the dictator’s ouster in 2003, authorities continued to increase state hirings — with a heavy dose of nepotism.
But now, as 26-year-old Karrar Alaa discovered, there are no more guarantees.
Three years ago, he was counting on his business degree leading to a public sector job in the southern port city of Basra.
But tired of waiting, he has turned entrepreneur.
After gathering up all of his savings and borrowing money from relatives, Alaa invested in a car and transformed it into a coffee shop on wheels.
“It’s the first of its kind in Basra. I got the idea from a video shot in Europe and posted on Facebook,” he told AFP.
The “Coffee 2 Go” car has a giant plastic cup mounted on the roof, while an image of a cup of cappuccino and coffee beans is emblazoned on the body.
An initial investment of $20,000 has led to daily earnings of around 150,000 dinars, or $120, from cups of coffee made in a machine installed in the car boot.
Mashreq Jabbar earns similar sums from his little bookshop squeezed into a corridor of a Basra fashion mall.
“Renting a shop costs $6,000 a month; I only pay $2,500 for my hallway,” said the slim 26-year-old, as he tidied shelves of school books, romantic novels and poetry collections.
The geology graduate had also hoped to get a job as a public official, confident that his degree would make him employable in the local oil industry.
But even though the sector accounts for 89 percent of the state budget and 99 percent of Iraq’s export revenues, it provides only one percent of jobs as the majority of posts are filled by foreigners.
The lack of opportunities is nationwide; from the capital Baghdad to second city Mosul in the north, and from the agricultural east to the western desert.
It is not uncommon to find engineers working as taxi drivers, or sandwich stalls manned by literature graduates in a country of avid readers.
Officially, 10.8 percent of Iraqis are jobless, while youth unemployment is twice as high in a country where 60 percent of the population are aged under 24.
A mushrooming number of private universities — with Baghdad boasting around 30 — has made the situation even worse among graduates.
The private sector which emerged after Saddam’s rule has failed to fill the employment gap, with many young Iraqis holding out for the coveted public sector posts.
“The common view is that there’s no choice but to work in the public sector,” said Ahmed Abdel Hassan, an economics professor at the University of Basra.
“Young people who go to work in the private sector say it’s a temporary move before getting a post in the public sector,” he said.
Even Basra’s entrepreneurs see the benefits, with Alaa noting the social security and pension perks, while Jabbar pointed to civil servants’ guaranteed salaries.
Many of those holding out for a state job, however, are left unable to move out of their parents’ house.
Omar Abdallah, 28, had pinned his hopes on getting a teaching job at the end of his studies in fine art.
Iraq once had a high-quality and free education system, but that was left in tatters following the international embargo of the 1990s after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.
Having failed to land a job and with no capital to start a business of his own, Abdallah began collecting scrap metal.
“I could only count on myself and my talent,” he said at his family home, where one room serves as both his workshop and exhibition space.
Abdallah has transformed old bicycle chains into scorpions, cutlery into dragonflies and used nuts and bolts to make motorbike models.
In a good month he can sell half a dozen sculptures, charging between $200 and $250 apiece.
“People love my sculptures,” he said proudly. “They tell me: ‘How did you manage to make something so beautiful out of rubbish?’“