Minibus drivers decry new transport system

Over 1,000 vehicles pulled out of Khat Al-Balad service


By Abdullah Al-Dani and Faris Al-Qahtani

Okaz/Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH/RIYADH — A number of minibus drivers who worked on Khat Al-Balad (downtown route) for more than half a century before the service was finally stopped have strongly criticized the new public transport system, which sent their vehicles on retirement and made them jobless.

They said the new public transport system has put a seal on their only source of income, which they relied on for more than five decades to feed their families.

The owners refused the three options offered to them by the Public Transport Authority: to work for the Saudi Public Transport Company at fixed monthly salaries, obtain loans from the Social Development Bank to start their own business, or retire and live on public security assistance.

The supreme committee in charge of studying the public transportation project has studied the financial and social situation of bus drivers in the Kingdom and formed a list containing the names of all public bus drivers who operate their own buses.

A few months ago, the Council of Ministers decided that all old buses that serve major cities should be suspended and replaced with new transportation means.

"None of these options are suitable to us. We want to keep our minibuses and work," said Ali Al-Zubaidi.

Zubaidi, who is now 70 years old, said he had been driving the minibus for more than 40 years.

"We have complained to the concerned authorities to find a solution to our problem but we are not hopeful that they will do much," he said.

Ali Al-Sharmani, who is 76 years old, agreed. He said he had been driving his minibus since 1990.

"I do not have any other source of income to provide for my family," he said.

Zahir Al-Shihri said the branch of the Transport Ministry in Jeddah informed him about the new arrangements, which he does not approve of.

"Most of the minibus drivers do not own homes and depend on their vehicles to sustain their families," he said while asking the concerned authorities to review their decision.

Shihri said he bought his minibus at SR75,000 through installments and he was not willing to give up that easily.

He said his income from the minibus used to be much more than the salary offered by the public transport company SAPTCO for a driver.

Shihri, however, said he would not mind working for SAPTCO on condition that he kept his minibus.

He asked the authorities to exempt the minibuses that are in good condition and allow them to operate.

Mohammed Al-Suhaimi said he was not convinced with the new public transport system but he would acquiesce.

"We have objected to the decision and asked the concerned authorities to review it but this will be in vain," he said.

He said he was supporting a family of 17 members and his only source of income was his minibus.

Old minibus operators in Riyadh also expressed their worry that the new public transportation system would render them jobless.

A number of bus drivers who spoke with Okaz/Saudi Gazette in downtown Al-Batha expressed their indignation and anger at the decision, while demanding that they should be allowed to continue their work.

Ahmed K., a bus driver, hoped that the authorities would do something about it and change the decision or make an exception for the bus drivers.

"I don't want to work as a SAPTCO bus driver because their buses are large and difficult to maneuvder in the crowded streets of Riyadh especially during rush hours," he said.

Ghalib Al-Mohri, another driver, said the bus he owned was the only means of survival for him. He said he would not be able meet the job requirements and conditions of the transportation companies, which are usually difficult to meet.

Saeed Al-Bassami, deputy chairman of the transport committee of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), said about 1,000 minibuses have been pulled out of the streets.

He said before they were stopped, the minibuses were working in Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah, Madinah and Taif.

He said the owners had been asked to stop operating minibuses since the time of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd.

Bassami recalled that the owners were warned several times over the years to pull their minibuses out of service but they would not listen.

"The decision was aimed at organizing the public transport system and it would not be rescinded," he said.