October 27, 2009
Saudis complain of American legacy in transport
I found this sourly amusing, from FT.com / Transport - Saudis stuck in a jam over public transport
Many Americans blame Saudis for the price of petrol needed to fill their SUVs and motor homes. But Saudis have their own complaint: they hold American contractors who helped build their road networks responsible for the traffic congestion and lack of efficient public transport.
“American builders of Riyadh modelled it after Los Angeles, with highways and big roads, but with no plan for public transportation,” says Salwa, a businesswoman in Riyadh. “The government just woke up to the importance of trains for linking cities after thousands of Saudis and pilgrims have been killed on those highways. But they are doing nothing about easing traffic in Riyadh or other cities.” ... The need for public transport has become urgent. With hundreds of thousands of cars and taxis, a 15-minute trip to downtown Riyadh can take more than 45 minutes during rush-hour. When people go shopping and dining in the evening, cars on the main roads slow to a standstill. .... Experts say low petrol prices, low-wage drivers, and Saudi and expatriate preferences for buying large cars create disincentives for building public transport. Almost 1m new vehicles are imported to Saudi Arabia each year, half of which are private cars, says John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi.Emphasis added. American sprawl legacy, actually Saudi complaints in this area are probably rather more founded than American complaints about petrol prices, although the Saudis could have opted for proper urban planning, but America was seductive in the 1960s.
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Fair point, but I fail to see how "highways and big roads" make it impossible for the state to set up a decent bus grid, or even build a metro.
Posted by: alle at October 27, 2009 06:30 PM
Non-centered sprawl. Rail transport works best on good centres with hub and spoke arrangements. American cities face similar challenges. Impossible, no, but far less than optimal, yes.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at October 27, 2009 06:34 PM
If Dubai is any guide to Riyadh, I rather wonder:
1) How many people given the option of using a bus will get out of their cars, thereby reducing congestion.
2) Whether Saudis would be willing to live in the high-density apartment complexes necessary to support mass transit. At present, Riyadh is almost entirely low-rise.
I very much doubt that buses will be socially acceptable in the near term for native Saudis or white collar expats. Too much association with the Great Unwashed.
Trains, although expensive, have more psychological cachet, and probably could be more successful relative to adoption.
Transition from low rise / low density may be difficult, although I think not impossible; upper class Saudis have experience with luxury high-rise living in the region, and the lower end of the market would have to go. Middle Class might be the problem.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at October 28, 2009 09:57 AM