'Khat Al-Balda' soon to become memory

Authorities begin campaign to halt minibus service in Riyadh, Jeddah


By Mohammed Saud

Okaz/Saudi Gazette

RIYADH – The private minibuses in Riyadh and Jeddah, known as “Khat Al-Balda,” will stop their services shortly as the government has decided to replace them with modern buses that have international safety and security standards.

The authorities have started tracking down these old minibuses that are notorious for causing environmental and noise pollution.

Low-income expatriates from Arab and Asian countries are the main customers of these buses, called coasters after a famous brand, that provided dependable public transport services over the past three decades in Jeddah and Riyadh. A trip between any two points on the route cost SR2, which was raised to SR3 lately. The service to city centers from different points in Riyadh and Jeddah starts early in the morning and continues until midnight.

“The main attraction of service is that the drivers would pick and drop passengers anywhere without showing any displeasure,” said an expatriate who used the service regularly.

Many Arab expat commuters rely on these minibuses as a cheap transportation means. “The Khat Al-Balda service began more than 30 years ago. About 600 buses have been registered with the Ministry of Transport,” said a Saudi passenger, adding that it was the only means of public transport before the Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) was constituted in the late 1970s.

“Khat Al-Balda operators have been running their services without fail, providing a secure and stable transport, especially for low-paid expatriate workers,” the Saudi added.

The authorities have started grounding these buses following a Cabinet decision to stop the service in Jeddah and Riyadh and replace them with a modern public transport network.

Experts at the General Authority for Public Transport have made a number of observations about the minibus service. About 90 percent of the buses operate without a license while most of them lack safety means and cause pollution.

Abdullah Sayil Al-Motairy, spokesman for the transport authority, said the campaign against Khat Al-Balda transport service would continue until the end of next month.

“We want to stop this service once and for all,” he told Okaz/Saudi Gazette.

He said an expert committee would look into the legal status of all these buses after grounding them.

New buses of the public transport network would start operation in February, he said, adding that new service would be provided by the private sector, sticking to all safety norms.

“The new buses would follow international standards for public transport,” Al-Motairy said, adding that it would reflect the Kingdom’s international reputation.

Khat Al-Balda will remain in the memory of Saudis and expats for a long time despite the government’s decision to stop the service.

Actor Fayiz Al-Malki had once played the role of a minibus driver in a drama. His performance in successfully portraying the life of minibus drivers made the drama a big hit.