Jordan’s transport system stands on the cusp of major change. But it won’t move smoothly to its next stage of development without public sector officials adopting the right mindset.
The development of transportation in any country progresses through various stages over time. Researchers, such as Joseph M. Sussman at MIT, have studied this in various contexts, identifying ‘eras’ along the following lines:
- The infrastructure era:
This era is characterized by the widespread building of physical infrastructure, mostly in response to (or catering to) demand. In this era, investments are typically focused on a single mode, and there is a concerted effort to try and get more people and goods on the road (using that mode) in order to stimulate economic growth.
- The systems era:
In this era, transportation is viewed as more of a system that includes multiple modes. These modes must operate in tandem to create a balance or equilibrium that ensures the efficient movement of people and goods, satisfies the varying preferences and needs, and is environmentally sound. Interconnections between these modes are also considered. Transportation is provided as part of a cohesive plan, rather than as a reaction to changes in demand. In this era, maintenance and enhancement of existing infrastructure is key—as opposed to building new infrastructure. Mobility and accessibility become central concepts, as the ability to move around and reach different places becomes viewed as an essential right.
- The large-scale, integrated systems era
This is an era where advanced technologies are deployed in management and operations, where transportation is deeply integrated into other systems. It’s an era that’s data-driven and that focuses on optimized operations. In this era, institutions adapt to these new changes (in both the public and private sectors); information flows seamlessly; services are more tailed; and pricing becomes more sophisticated, allowing for more economically efficient outcomes and stimulating behavioral changes.
Jordan has been long stuck in the first era, which has been characterized in our case by the building of more road infrastructure for private vehicles. The reasons behind this are numerous and complex, and I won’t get into them here. However, we can say that over the past decade, we’ve been slowly (and somewhat hesitantly) moving towards the second era, with some elements from the third era even creeping into the landscape.
Today, we have two BRT systems in the pipeline. We’re talking about building a national railway network for freight. Amman is looking at smart traffic solutions that don’t require building new infrastructure. Municipalities and other entities across the Kingdom are beginning to look at transportation and mobility, as opposed to the movement of vehicles. People have become accustomed to using technology to navigate the streets and get around, and ride-hailing apps are becoming increasingly popular. Groups like Ma’an Nasel are pushing the limits in expanding public participation and making transportation data more widely available.
However, this progress has been slow, as I indicated above, and the will to keep moving forward is lacking, as I said in my previous article. This is largely due to internal factors in our public institutions, but it can also be attributed to the very fast-paced world we live in, which can be overwhelming for any established system.
Developments and innovations in transportation are essentially making us jump from the first to the third era. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and I think we should accept it with open arms. If anything, it can allow us to be preemptive and not make the same mistakes that others—who experienced a more gradual progression—have made.
Going through this shift can even be easier for our government to handle. However, it requires a different mindset in the public sector, one that embraces technology and one that sees concepts like open data as an opportunity, rather than a threat. It’s a mindset that provides the right platforms and infrastructure for entrepreneurs and the private sector to innovate and provide smart transportation solutions, while maintaining the government’s role in ensuring equal coverage and affordability in the provision of such solutions.
This mindset may also require rethinking the institutional structure that governs transport in Jordan today. Is the current setup adequate? There are many questions that need to be answered, but the potential is huge.
* Hazem Zureiqat is a transport consultant at Engicon, a multidisciplinary engineering consulting firm based in Amman, and a founding member of Ma’an Nasel, a citizen-led public transport advocacy group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @hazem.