RIYADH: A 2020 December business report has revealed new details surrounding the Saudi bus market, as well as its projected growth, as the highly-anticipated new form of public transport continues to develop in the Kingdom.
According to the report, published by international tech company ReportLinker, Saudi Arabia’s bus market was valued around $13.51 billion in 2019, and is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 8.52 percent over the next five years.
The report states that this can be attributed to a growing inclination of the population towards public transportation. Additionally, as part of the Saudi Vision 2030, the government is planning to promote and enhance public transport in the Kingdom, which is anticipated to positively influence the market growth over the coming years.
In terms of fuel type, the report found that diesel led the market with a share of 71.84 percent in 2019, due to its low price. However, as one of Vision 2030’s goals is to focus on clean energy public transportation, the share of electric and hybrid buses is expected to increase over the coming years.
Furthermore, concerns over increasing air pollution and the declining cost of batteries are expected to have a positive impact on the market growth of electric and hybrid buses in the country.
Despite public transport having a presence in the Kingdom since the late 1960s, Saudis’ preferred method of transport has generally been private cars and taxis. However, amid rising environmental concerns, the increasing cost of petrol, and the looming threat of climate change, the Saudi government is taking active steps to try and promote public transport as a more cost-effective, environmentally conscious option.
However, the bus industry in Saudi Arabia will have to take active steps to incentivize certain key demographics to use public transport.
Women in the Kingdom have been reluctant to use public transport in the past. A research paper titled “Riyadh Transportation History and Developing Vision”, published by Majid Aldalbahi and Dr. Guy Walker in 2016, stated that women constitute less than 9 percent of the total number of passengers, due to a lack of privacy Saudi women are accustomed to.
Women in the Kingdom also recently obtained the right to drive, increasing the number of drivers of private cars on the road and making them even less likely to use public transport.
In the paper the authors state that cultural norms may also have something to do with the reluctance to take public transport.
“An important reason why Riyadh is a car-based city is that people with access to cars simply never use public transport: Upper, middle and even working class Saudi residents tell visitors that public transport is for the foreign blue-collar workers only,” it said.
Despite that, buses are not exactly an unseen phenomenon in the Kingdom. The most commonly seen buses are operated by The Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company (SAPTCO). Established in 1979 as a public company, with a government subsidy, SAPTCO has been the regional and national public transit operator, with a monopoly on transit services within and between Saudi cities.
However, in Riyadh in particular, despite the granted monopoly, private operators still provide deregulated transit services across the city and have done so since the 1960s, creating competition for SAPTCO.
Buses also exist in the kingdom for tourism purposes. City Sightseeing’s iconic double-decker red bus also offers tours in the holy city of Al-Madinah.