Am I safe on the bus? A first-hand account from Kuwait City


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Four pedestrians board a red CityBus in Kuwait.
Reforming public transport is important to Kuwait City, particularly to deter crime that goes unnoticed because of poor monitoring. (Photo credit: Abeer AlMutawa)

In September, we visited Kuwait to explore areas of potential cooperation with a few governmental institutions in the transport sector. To get a firsthand impression of the quality of Kuwait’s public transport, we went on a roundtrip bus ride with Kuwait Commute, a civil society organization that has been active in commuting and road safety for the past decade. We jumped on two buses belonging to two of the three companies operating in the city.

Consider the following scenario when you ride one of Kuwait's buses in the morning: You dash out of the house and sprint to a highway, where you fling your arm out to hail a bus in the same way you would a taxi, and then attempt to board, but the vehicle does not stop for you, forcing you to chase it down and climb on board while it is still moving. Once seated, the bus driver rushes through the streets, frequently slamming on the brakes as forcefully as possible, jolting passengers from their seats. This is the daily reality for those obligated to use public transit in Kuwait.

Kuwait is a metropolis with over three million inhabitants and a strong business environment. With an excellent road network, the use of private cars has become the preferred mode of mobility for people to go to work, school or any other activity.

So, understandably, this has led to congestion, long waits at traffic lights, difficulties finding street parking, and a substantial increase in Green-House-Gas (GHG) emissions. The increasing number of private vehicles creates a PM2.5 average of 38.30 μg/m³, placing Kuwait 13th in the world for being unhealthy for people sensitive to air pollution.  Consequently, Kuwait has begun to promote public transit as a means of reducing traffic and improving air quality, but residents are hesitant to explore this alternative method.

Kuwait’s first bus company was established in 1962. With more than 600 buses and 1,000 drivers, the Kuwait Public Transport Company operates over 35 routes crisscrossing Kuwait. When demand grew, other companies entered the market, including City Bus, established in 2002 as the first privately held public transport provider. City Bus owns and operates a fleet of more than 500 buses, 80 of which are low carbon emission. In 2006, KGL entered the market, with a fleet of several hundred buses, as well. All three provide air-conditioned buses to protect passengers from the extreme heat. Buses are clean and have proper signage inside, with information on routes.

Despite this, there has been a fall in ridership. Cars and fuel are very affordable in Kuwait, so the country has one of the world’s highest per-capita vehicle ownership rates. Bus companies do not help by planning their routes without coordinating. They operate where there is higher demand for ridership to maximize revenue. Drivers carry out unsafe maneuvers to compete for passengers, swerving in and out of traffic, speeding, and bunching up at busy stops and skipping quieter ones, or taking off even when passengers are still getting on.

There is a dearth of data on women's safety on public transit in Kuwait. Public transport is largely unmonitored, so the authorities lack immediate access to surveillance footage, preventing women from filing complaints or seeking redress quickly. But though statistics on women's travel patterns are scant, Jassim AlAwadhi, the founder of Kuwait Commute, says pregnant women are at a particular disadvantage because buses speed through bus stops without stopping properly. Safe bus stops with spaces to sit and wait are needed.

Bus stops also need the following things which are currently nonexistent: shade protection from the scorching summer heat, lighting at night for safety, and clear signage. With no clear bus stops, riders get confused over when they are supposed to get on or off. They hail the bus from the curb to get on and negotiate with the driver where they need to get off, leading to buses stopping mid-traffic. When a stop has a space to pull into, car owners park in it, with no apparent worries of being ticketed or fined.

Reforming public transport is important to Kuwait City, particularly to deter crime that goes unnoticed because of poor monitoring. First and foremost, it is necessary to install surveillance mechanisms which are connected to authorities and capable of rapidly responding to complaints. Second, its necessary to reorganize Kuwait’s bus system so that buses are required to adhere to a real-time schedule. Third, installing a smartcard system will modernize usage through a route app and allow users to top up their cards online and link to the bus schedule.

Transport is the second highest contributor to Greenhouse Gas emissions in Kuwait, which faces other climate change issues. While Kuwait has taken initiatives to mitigate the impact of climate change, there is room to do more. Moving people from their cars to public transport is a monumental shift but a necessary one. There are glimmers of hope that the people of Kuwait are keen to drive this change. It is great to see an organization like Kuwait Commute working closely with the government to explore ways to reform public transport, propose solutions, and suggest partnerships with the private sector. With their combined efforts, Kuwait City could be on route to safer, more efficient, more inclusive public transport.



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Join the Conversation

Yousry El tarzi
December 14, 2021

I am a 70 year old architect and I take the bus daily to and from work, I believe the drivers need a lot of training and monitoring before we can intrust the lives of passengers in their hands.

Majed M Elbayya
December 14, 2021

Thanks for the team. Great article. One area that are usually overlooked in public transportation is the lack of consideration of life cycle costing in the procurement of roads, bus and railway systems to ensure quality of the infrastructure. One aspect that can be included in the evaluation of bids for e.g. bus system is Greenhouse Gas emissions. We at the World Bank EFI Governance are currently working on preparation of a Practice Manual on the use of life cycle costing in procurement of infrastructure which could be useful for Kuwait and any other country. One of the chapters will be on Transport.

December 14, 2021

Very good blogs

Lauren Kelly
December 14, 2021

Excellent initiative. We summarize findings from several impact evaluations of the development of the TransMilenio BRT in Bogota supported by the WBG that may also be useful in creating green and safe mobility options….

Lauren Kelly
December 14, 2021

Excellent initiative. We summarize findings from several impact evaluations of the development of the TransMilenio BRT in Bogota supported by the WBG that may also be useful in creating green and safe mobility options….

Rolando Estomaguio
December 15, 2021

Great article and it is very true. Majority of bus drivers lacks descipline and thats the fact. Me and my wife always chase the bus everytime we go to Avenues Mall. They don't stop properly. We always experience being jolted upon entering the bus because the bus driver seems competing with time and other buses. There is one frequent matter that is not included in this article which is really annoying. The driver allow some passenger to obstruct the passage way to the seats by letting some guy to stand and talk to him continuously in every bus stops. It is either the stupid passenger don't care that they are obstructing the passage way to the seats or doing it intentionally to bump or touch some women entering the bus.