Planning Sustainable Mobility in the Amman Metropolitan Area (Jordan)

CODATU News Tuesday 7 July 2015

Amman a fast-growing capital

The city of Amman has experienced a lightning urban development during the last fifty years, growing from 800 000 inhabitants in 1979 to almost 3 million today. The capital, which plays a major economic role, concentrates 50% of the country’s population and 80% of the industrial production within its metropolitan area -which gathers Amman, Zarqa and Russeifa. Thus, the city has significantly expanded, without real planning, in spite of a 1988’s master plan. The city is now facing important urban issues. Jordan’s car ownership rate is one of the highest within the region (100 cars for 1000 inhabitants) and the public transport sector, which has grown unplanned without any public investment, is widely denigrated by the population (13% of the modal share in Amman, in opposition to 28% in Beyrouth, 29% in Tunis, 58% in Istanbul) and is only used by the poorest. The aspiration for private car is widespread, and mobility is a major expense for the middle-class.

However, the cuts in governmental subsidies on fuel price, the urban infrastructure’s mismatch with the increasing demand, the pollution and congestion issues have revealed the need for a shift in the city’s management. At the « Urban Smart » forum organized by the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Jordan (CAFRAJ), Amman’s mayor Akel Biltaji went as far as to call for a « paradigm shift »: inhabitants’ mentalities, as well as engineers’, planners’ and decision makers’ now should adapt to a new reality of urban development.

The Amman Plan: the development of an important expertise on urban planning

During the 2000’s, facing a property boom as well as an important inflow of capital coming from the Gulf, Amman felt the need to frame its development, in opposition to the unpopular project of building ten high rise towers.

In 2006, Omar Maani was appointed as Mayor with the mission to organize Amman’s development. He called on Canadian consultants and created a think tank within the Amman Institute, to undertake important research in the urban field. The city also got important competencies in the field of transportation – formerly managed at the national level – allowing it to develop a real expertise as well as getting a real operational capacity in the field of urban mobility. The city thus created a transport planning department whose expertise covered all modes of transportation, from private car to public transports and pedestrians.

With these new tools, the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) set up in 2006 a master plan for 2025 which led to 2008’s Transport and Mobility Master Plan (TMMP), designed in cooperation with the city of Paris, the Parisian Workshop for City-Planning (APUR), and the French Agency for Development (AFD).

The BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) project, which arose from the TMMP, is also the spearhead of the Amman Green Growth Program (AGGP), bringing the municipality’s commitment for Green House Gas alleviation, within the requirements of the « Clean Development Mechanism ».

TMMP and BRT: ambitious goals facing a difficult reality

Completed in 2010, the TMMP introduced an important reflection upon transport management and planned the creation of an integrated mobility system in accordance with the upcoming urban development. Indeed, in the context of the important economic growth during which the plan was written, the real-estate projects that were being developed at that time, were expected to increase the demand for mobility. Thus, the master plan defines a strategy for transport development, as well as some ambitious and overestimated targets, such as increasing the public transport’s modal share from 14% to 40%. Four scenarios including the creation of BRT and LRT’s lines were evaluated, important tools for demand management such as the increase of fuel prices, the creation of congestion charging zones, and the spread of paid parking areas were proposed.

The BRT project was chosen and benefited from a 166 million dollar soft loan from the French Agency for Development (AFD). The first construction works (close to the university, on a congested road) started in 2010, in a rush; the population was hardly being involved in it, creating a huge discontent. Facing these criticisms and under the pretext of corruption accusations, the project was suspended a year later by the Council of Ministers, leaving a 2km-section abandoned. A year later (2013), the project was re-examined, a counter-study was made and the Council of Ministers eventually gave the project the go-ahead. The first construction works started again in May in the Abdoun district where the impact on traffic should be lower. However, some noteworthy modifications were made to the project; the most important being the modification of one line (third line) serving the popular South-Eastern district, where a segregated line will not be implemented.

The BRT project as a backbone for a sustainable, equitable and integrated mobility system?

Although the project, a showcase of the transport department, is supposed to be the backbone of a new sustainable and integrated transport system, major issues are still unsolved.

The transport sector in Amman includes almost 3500 small-scale operators, mostly operating one single vehicle, who are not willing to respect the rules enforced by the municipality (defined routes, maximum number of passengers, speed limit…). The municipality does not maintain any dialogue with them for the time being, and the police forces are turning a blind eye to their illegal practices. As the new system is likely to strongly affect the operators’ activities, the organization of an efficient feeder service with well defined and regular lines, will constitute an important challenge.

The integration at the metropolitan level is also an important point of uncertainty, while a BRT linking Amman and Zarqa managed by the Ministry of Transport is currently underway. The question of a real integration of the two BRTs is still a matter of doubt. « Systra », the company in charge of producing a feasibility study as well as the tendering documents, only acknowledged its possibility. GAM and the Ministry, both present in the BRT’s steering committee, are facing difficulties in maintaining a calm dialogue. On the other hand, Zarqa Municipality’s representatives complain about their lack of institutional capacity as well as the inefficiency of the governmental authority’s ability to address the local needs – i.e. the Land Transport Regulatory Commission, in charge of public transport regulation in the « secondary cities ».

             Thus, we can state that Amman municipality truly oriented its policy towards a planned management in the transport sector, and has also acquired important capacities for action in that field. Setting up a BRT is a first step towards the creation of a reliable and efficient mobility system, capable of solving mobility issues at the city and metropolitan level. However, the decentralisation of powers, along with the citizens’ involvement remain insuffisant, despite a strong population will, and the top-down approach for imposing a new urban scenario might affect its durability.