Public transportation is the answer!

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Public transportation is the answer!

Public transportation is our ultimate solutions to lots of issues. In Saudi Vision 2030, we are moving away from petrol as the main source of energy and income. One third of our daily oil production is being consumed internally. If we don't cap and reduce it, we may face a time when we don't export enough to cover our budget.

Our road and highway networks are world class. However, they cost much more than rail to build and maintain, while carrying less passengers and cargo. No matter how much we spend in expanding and widening the network, they soon get overwhelmed.

Air and noise pollution is rising every year. With millions of cars in every street and corner, city and town, our health and nerves are constantly threatened and upset.

Cars, while more flexible and available, especially for families, are also costlier to buy, maintain and operate. Even with lowest price, among most petrol in the world, it is eating up a high percentage of our household income.

Worse, they are the most unsafe mode to move people. All public awareness campaigns, rules and regulations, encouragement and punishments would not reduce accident rates to a tolerable, or even understandable, level.

Fortunately, we are doing something about it, and harvesting great results. Take last Haj, for example. Most guests of Allah were moving from one point to another by trains and coaches. Smaller buses, vans and cars were forbidden in Arafat, Muzdalifah and Mina.

As a result, the masses either walked on well-paved, lit and served pedestrian lanes, or used pre-booked trains and coaches via their group organizers. In Makkah, thousands of frequent, around-the-hour buses provided affordable ways to move commuters.

This means less crowded, stressful and polluted space. As a result, we had more peaceful and spiritual time dedicated to prayers, meditation and Haj ceremonies.

The ultra-fast train between Makkah and Madinah, via Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic City takes travelers from Jeddah's King Abdulaziz International Airport to Makkah in 20 minutes and to Madinah (360 km away) in an a couple of hours.

Once they arrive, trams, buses and pedestrian lanes will bring them to the central areas, around the holy mosques in both towns. Private cars and taxis could be made available too, but not encouraged.

Near future plans, include metros and other sorts of public transportation in large metropolitans. New projects are either halfway to completion or past design phase in Jeddah, Makkah, Madinah and Riyadh.

The Jeddah project includes cable cars, monorail, and sea taxis. All cities will have a sophisticated bus and taxi systems augmenting and providing an alternative to rail networks. Neom would go the extra mile, by using all-electric means of transportation.

In addition, our 28 airports are being upgraded. Budget airlines are providing cheaper, safer and faster alternative to car travel. Newer carriers are giving travelers more routes, choices and frequency.

These are far-sighted plans for a greener future, less dependence on oil and carbon energy and safer mass movement.

Changes to a lifestyle do not come easily. To move people from their private cars to shared spaces would need lots of persuasion. Cost and comfort, speed and availability, reality and perception must all come to play.

We should provide restricted areas for pedestrians, bicycles and trams. We may also put taxes on cars with larger engines, and fees on street parking. Highways with alternative slower roads can be metered. And no more subsidized energy.

I wrote this article from Vienna, Austria, one of the world best public transit provider. It is well connected to Europe and international destinations by air, rail and coaches. Intercity networks add tram, underground and above ground metro, besides electric buses.

People are encouraged to walk in pedestrian-only boulevards lined with trees, shops and restaurants. Public seating, restrooms, car, taxi and bicycle parking areas are provided along the way. Bikes and scooters have special lanes. You could rent, if you prefer not to buy them.

Most means of transport are electric, including cars. With all parks and woods in and around the city, pollution and petroleum consumption are minimum. Extra saving is achieved by using solar, wind and other clean renewable energy generators.

Hopefully, we won't lag behind. Our future depends on it.

— Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi


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