Published on Arab Voices

When public transportation is unavailable, firms have trouble keeping their workers: Morocco case study

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Access to safe and efficient transportation services is a challenge for many workers worldwide. For minimum wage or informal workers, commuting between home and work can easily turn into a nightmare.  Challenges that commuters face involve juggling between several means of transport, ensuring transport is as cheap as possible, planning for unexpected disruptions, coordinating schedules with other household members, and worrying about possible safety and/or harassment issues, all while making sure that they are not late to work. These challenges are even more pronounced for women who bear the brunt of household chores and childcare. Spatial accessibility to the workplace has become a mental burden for workers and industry executives alike.

Traditionally, ease of commuting has often been the focus of national travel surveys, which, unfortunately, are mostly not available in many countries like Morocco. Casual conversations conducted by the World Bank’s transport team with industry executives found that safe and efficient mobility of workers is a growing concern in the manufacturing sector and has contributed to lower competitiveness in cities including Tangiers and Casablanca. Unreliable transport services have led to high employee turnover and exhaustion for employees.

Firms face a double penalty, too. Through taxes, firms finance public transport. However, firms cannot benefit from public transport services because of their inadequacy and lack of reliability. Some firms, then, decide to pay for their own staff transport services, leading to additional costs, hindering their competitiveness even more. While providing transportation services for their employees may enhance a firm’s production, it only internalizes the problem, which can affect their competitiveness. Holistically, asking private firms to provide safe and efficient transportation services to their employees means reducing the number of potential passengers for public transport services. This would lead to a reduction in demand and therefore, a reduction in the incentive to improve public transport services.  

Conversations with industry executives revealed that they were aware of the challenges their employees face in accessing transportation and how it affected their competitiveness as businesses. In order to better assess firms on their knowledge and experience of employee commuting patterns, the World Bank’s transport team developed an innovative survey tool. Although initially developed for Morocco, our tool could be used everywhere.

The survey aimed to examine the policy question of employees’ spatial accessibility to workplaces. Commuting is challenging with no established policy or guidelines for workers in the manufacturing sector.  Mobility solutions include a mix of formal and informal collective transportation, minivans, and company organized transportation. However, little information is available on the topic to understand the situation.

We sent our online survey, available in Arabic and in French, to specific contact people in each establishment. The respondents answered questions on their firms and the nature of their establishment, their factories’ spatial accessibility, their employees’ commuting patterns, and on their firms’ transport policies.

In total, 31 establishments responded, all working in the textile sector. 60% of them are in Casablanca, 20% in Tangier, 13% in Fez, and the remaining 7% in Marrakesh. Since the number of respondents are limited, we consider the results of the analysis as indicative rather than statistically significant. However, the pilot of this new survey shows a way to capture travel patterns in a simple, easily scalable, and efficient manner.

The survey revealed that the quality of public transportation services influences a firm’s performance. Public transportation can have a negative impact on employee retention, according to almost 40% of the firms surveyed.  Executives were very critical of all aspects of public transportation. It appears that the firms were unanimous in their assessment of the quality of public transportation in terms of frequency, comfort, and punctuality.

According to the firms surveyed, the issue of transport is reported to be a major concern for employees and labor union representatives.  As would be expected, the results show that the enterprises for which the issue of mobility is most often raised are the ones less likely to assume responsibility for this challenge. Similarly, these enterprises are the ones who deny the negative consequences of public transportation on employee retention. Executives from those enterprises that seemed less interested by these issues did say that transport-related concerns are systematically raised during social dialogue with employees.

This pilot survey proved to be an effective, low-cost tool that is easy to implement. Our findings confirmed that a firm-level survey can be an effective alternative to a traditional commuter survey. It also confirms that firms expect good public mobility policies, suggesting the importance of engaging stakeholders in transport policy design.

Public transport improvements benefit workers in terms of better job access, while, at the same time, help enhance company performance. Our findings are thus a strong call to promote accessible, affordable, efficient, and safe public transport services. An efficient public transport network is key for a sustainable, climate-friendly, inclusive, and growth-oriented urban centers.





Clotilde V. Minster

Transport Specialist, MENA, World Bank

Nabil Samir

Senior Transport Specialist, World Bank

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