A government effort to create a regulatory framework for public school transport is commendable, but it should not come at the expense of the price that parents have to pay.
In a recent meeting of his cabinet’s economic team, Prime Minister Omar Razzaz called for accelerating work on developing school transport. He was referring to a recent government effort to develop a regulatory framework for public school transportation services.
For too long, public school students in the Kingdom have suffered from the lack of safe, reliable transportation services. Unlike their peers in many private schools, students in public schools have no access to buses that are owned, administered, or monitored by their schools. They are faced with either walking, finding a ride with a family member, take public transport (apparently not a common case), or using one of the thousands of private vans that provide the service illegally.
These small private vans are retrofitted with wooden benches and are generally not licensed to transport passengers of any kind. Police have found up 20 students crammed in the back. Just last April, a female student was killed in an accident caused by a reckless driver of one these vehicles in Jawa, south of Amman.
There have been previous attempts to regulate the service, but they came to nothing. However, recent efforts, partly driven by a German Development Agency (GIZ) project in which I have been involved, have now reached an advanced stage in finding a solution for this pressing issue.
The proposed solution involves using a bylaw to create a new class of transport service for students. The draft bylaw is designed to regulate existing drivers, who are operating illegally, by introducing a set of safety standards and incentives. This solution was first advocated by the Prime Minister during his time as Minister of Education. It is based on the premise that ‘formalizing’ existing operators represents the lowest cost option compared to, for example, bringing in formal bus operating companies to provide the service.
The approach here—creating a new class of service and utilizing private vehicles—is similar to, and was perhaps inspired by, the recent regulation of ride-hailing apps.
As the government moves forward with the regulations, it is important to bear in mind the following:
- Recent meetings with schools and drivers indicate that the price that parents pay for the current (illegal) service ranges anywhere from 8 to JD30 a month. New regulations should ensure that prices remain at around the same level. This is clearly easier said than done, as enforcing safety standards and a maximum number of passengers will surely raise the cost per student.
- If prices inevitably rise with the regulations, the government should find a mechanism for subsidizing at least vulnerable students. This could be a trust fund or part of the passenger transport fund (once it is established as stipulated by law).
- There is much to be learned from drivers that currently provide the service. One group in Amman formed a committee that has been lobbying for getting licensed. They have a deep understanding of the service and the needs of students. They have demands that are reasonable and should be taken into account when drafting the regulations.
* 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