AMMAN — Jordan’s public transport needs political and financial support to become a professional and qualified activity, the head of the Land Transport Regulatory Commission (LTRC) said on Saturday.

LTRC Director General Jamil Ali Mujahed told The Jordan Times and Al Rai Arabic daily in an interview that 90 per cent of Jordan’s public transport is operated by individuals and described this web of ownership as one of the main barriers hindering comprehensive overhaul.

He indicated in this regard that organising will take some time because solutions are not easy as some people might think.

“Not only are there thousands of operators functioning on the road network across the country, but there are also private car owners who now collect money for providing transportation to people in the absence of control and tough punishment,” Mujahed said, noting that unemployment and financial constraints are driving private car owners to operate and thus contribute to the chaotic public transportation.

Among other challenges, the director general also mentioned the haphazard public transport network and the rigidity to amending fares due to continuous increases in fuel prices.

“Our work at the LTRC is now focused on organising the structure and ownership of the public transport, taking into consideration the economic and social dimensions in our drive,” Mujahed said.

Besides regulating investment in terms of organisation and ownership, the LTRC chief said it is highly important that the government and municipalities provide adequate infrastructure, such as terminals, depots, bus stops, parking places, easy disembarking areas, and a smooth traffic flow, to ensure timeliness for passengers and dicipline.

Mujahed acknowledged that successive governments over the years did not prioritise public transport and consider it as complementary to other services but dealt with it as a supplementary service with little need for development.

He emphasised that public transport should be consistent and in conformity with city planning and land usage so that the road network become more efficient.

Mujahed spoke about some European countries where governments have chosen, since 1995, to support and improve the infrastructure for public transport, leaving the operations to private investors who generate income from fares (40-50 per cent), advertisements (10-20 per cent) and support from governments and municipalities (30-40 per cent).

In this context, he underlined the importance of local financial resources to upgrade the service, suggesting that such funding could be raised from additional fees on private cars or on fuel, and be directed to a special fund for development.

Only four years ago, governments started to give appropriate attention and support to public transport, Mujahed said, noting that several projects were launched.

He said that three infrastructure projects in Jerash, Karak and Madaba are underway and will most likely be operational in the summer of 2013.

Noting that at present there are about 170 operators in Jerash, Mujahed described the public transport reform in this ancient city as a pilot project within a master plan that, if successful, will be copied in all country governorates.

Other depots in Ajloun, Tafileh and Maan are under implementation, he said, adding that part of the Kuwaiti aid received recently will go to support public transport infrastructure, as agreed with the Ministry of Transport.

Mujahed was keen to highlight another aspect of reform in the sector, which is the modernisation of around 2,000 buses, out of about 3,500. He said that the old buses, with a lifespan in excess of 30 years, may have contributed to giving the public transport a negative image.

According to Mujahed, 40 per cent of those who travel by buses are students who receive financial subsidy especially those travelling to Al Hashimiyeh, Science and Technology, and Al Hussein/Maan universities.

Mujahed ruled out the possibility of public transport activity attracting an investor like the one expanding and soon to operate new terminal at Queen Alia International Airport, as such approach is too costly and unpractical without financial backing.

The LTRC director general said the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project in Amman was a very good idea, “but the weighing factors are the details and designs”.

He added that a specialised committee prepared a draft report and recommendations on the BRT project, but the proposals require profound and intensive discussions and deliberations.

In the case of the Comprehensive Multiple Transport Company, which provides public transport services in Amman, he noted that the government recently bought a 51 per cent stake in the firm to ensure the continuity of transport service inside the capital.

Mujahed said the company covers 70 per cent of the routes in Amman despite the financial and administrative difficulties it faces.