This blog has been co-authored by Ibtissam Alaoui and Carolyn Winter
If you are up for a challenge, hop on a bus or flag a taxi in one of Morocco’s larger cities. If one thing is certain, relying on urban public transport in Morocco is a frustrating, time-consuming and sometimes risky experience. These were the conclusions drawn by civil society organizations in a recent World Bank-sponsored consultation held in the capital, Rabat. The consultation was organized to identify the challenges and reform needs of the public transport system in Morocco and to prepare for the Bank’s second public transport support operation. The operation will be designed and implemented in coordination with relevant ministries, sector professionals, and civil society.
The urban public transport system in most Moroccan cities offers a number of alternatives, both budget and service wise. Buses, run under Public-Private Partnerships, remain the most affordable option and offer the most extended service. But travelling in one of them can turn out to be an adventure. Buses are over-crowded, unreliable and in a state of disrepair. They are also often a stage for uncivil behavior toward the most vulnerable, including women, people with disabilities and the elderly. Collective taxis are another cheap alternative for commuters. You hail one of them and climb into an old model Mercedes that can accommodate up to eight passengers. The lower cost of squeezing in with total strangers makes this the only available option for many. And then you have regular taxis, which are the more expensive option. But, in these taxis it is important to bear in mind that it’s not the client who is right, but always the driver. Some unscrupulous drivers will pick and choose between passengers, only agree to travel to their preferred destinations and, at times, whether or not to start the meter. And of course you have the informal transport system that can be a cheap alternative, especially when public transportation is on strike. But, it can be a hazardous experience to climb into one of these informal vehicles.
From the number of stories and personal experiences that emerged at the recent consultation, it appears that women are one of the biggest victims of the urban public transport system. Both on board and while waiting at the stations, women are victims of sexual harassment, molestation, violence and even theft. A recent World Bank study on gender and transport in Casablanca revealed that women make up the largest population segment using public transport. The reason is simple: Since they cannot afford to own a personal car and are very hesitant to use more affordable means such as bicycles and scooters, due to cultural norms and perceptions, women are forced to turn to public transportation. Yet this option neither ensures their safety nor respectful treatment.
While cultural issues loom large, the efficiency of the public transportation system is also constrained by rapid urban growth and inadequate planning and management. As Moroccan cities continue to grow, road infrastructure and public transport services are struggling to keep up. This is , especially evident in marginalized areas.. The absence of appropriate infrastructure (sidewalks, bus shelters, public lighting, and access ramps) present major obstacles for many public transport users, especially people with reduced mobility, women with strollers and the elderly.
All in all, it seems that most users are not satisfied with the current public transport system. . It has become the exact opposite of a customer-oriented service. All customers have to abide by the overarching rule: only the toughest will survive. . You may want to complain about the quality of a service or an uncivil behavior, but no system exists to receive your complaint. .
The consultation with civil society organizations was a big help in identifying challenges in the public transport sector, and a number of possible solutions were proposed. Proposals included new regulations requiring that all taxis post “passenger’s rights” in their vehicles with a hotline number for complaints, along with the name and photo of the driver. Linking this with a national complaints system, accessed by a hotline that is staffed around- the- clock, would greatly improve security and driving standards. Ensuring that sidewalks are adapted for the disabled was another well-received suggestion. And, providing this marginalized segment of the population with the opportunity to lend their input on public transportation policies and planning was strongly supported. Rationalizing the bus route system and linking it with other transportation modes, such as the tram system recently introduced in Rabat and Casablanca, was also deemed to be important – in terms of time saving and cost efficiency.
If public transportation considerations are incorporated into broader economic and land use planning, it can help boost economic opportunities and integrate the more marginalized and vulnerable members of society. It can also encourage residents to use public transportation rather than relying on private cars which are the source of traffic jams and pollution air. And if infrastructure and systems are put in place that ensure punctuality, comfort, affordability, safety, accountability and respect, a dream transport system may one day become a reality!