A Stitch In Time Saves Nine [Archives:1998/48/Business & Economy]

November 30 1998

By Hatem Bamehriz,
Yemen Times
Public transportation has become an integral part of our urban lifestyle. Dabbabs (mini buses) have become a main feature of Yemeni towns and cities.
Although they are privately owned and run, these small but convenient buses are inexpensive to use. It costs you YR15 (US 10c) to travel from one end of a route to another – often a distance of more than 6km.
Despite the relatively low turnover, some drivers depend entirely on these toy-town cars to make a living; while for others, it is an extra source of income.
But many drivers are not fully satisfied. Traffic police hunt them down, eager to buttress their income. Mechanics overcharge them. Official bodies try to impose certain traffic rules which the drivers are loathe to follow.
“We can’t believe it!”Every time I travel in a dabbab, I often ask myself: ‘Is it safe to use them?’ Some of them look like they are going to fall apart; breaks are not working properly and the loud noise coming from the engine makes you jumpy.
Drivers don’t follow traffic rules, they race and stop anywhere.
I went to the streets, to meet these forgotten guys (by the media). In the beginning they could not believe a newspaperman was on the street to talk to them. Only when they saw my camera did they believed it.
“What rules?!!”After the introduction, I decided to go straight to the point. “Why can’t you respect the traffic rules?” I asked. “What rules?” was their answer. I asked them to explain what they meant? “You see most of us are returned emigrants. When we were abroad we followed the rules, because there were rules and there was somebody implementing them. Here you must have seen drivers jumping red traffic lights or halting in the middle of the street talking to someone. If you have a good look you will realize, it is the law keeper’s car,” explained Mr. H. Naji .

He is right. When Yemenis are living abroad, they easily adjust to the rules of the new society, adopting many new skills and rules of conduct without losing their identity. But when they come back they completely change. I really can’t understand why? So I asked them, ‘why did you change from good to bad?’
“Well, for how long can we play Mr. Nice Guy, who tolerates everything and goes by the book? We were made fun at for abiding by the traffic rules and regulations. That was then, when we decided to join the party.”

“We don’t like mechanics!”I was not convinced by their explanation. I thought it was wise not to argue and move on to another question. ‘How often do you service your cars?’ They looked at each other and, with a careful smile, Mr. Mohammed A. answered: “Most of us take our cars to the mechanics, only just before it breaks down and stops by itself.”‘Isn’t that dangerous to many lives?’ I inquired. “We know it, but we can’t afford regular check ups, spare parts are expensive.” Of course this is not an excuse.

Sense and Responsibility
There is no sense of responsibility. Most of these drivers are not educated, they need to be trained. Their syndicate (if they have one) should have a more positive role in helping them obtain better understandings of traffic regulations, safety standards and the importance of regular maintenance to protect their lives and the lives of others.
The traffic police is not a mere law enforcement body, it is an educational institute too. They should be more active in instructing drivers, not only doling out punishments.
Catastrophe in Bab Al-Yemen
The main dabbab terminal (Farzah ) in Bab Al-Yemen is pathetic. Garbage and bad odor are everywhere. It is more of a dump area than a bus terminal.
In the rainy season this place becomes a swamp. It is a great danger to thousands of commuters, drivers and the environment. There should be a solution to this. Our lives are at risk. Bacteria and parasites find it a perfect environment to live in, spreading many diseases.
None of the concerned people such as Ministry of Health, municipality, environmentalists nor the drivers are bothered. The drivers feel it is the municipality’s duty; but, they never ask themselves if there is anything they can do to help. Certainly, there is.
People running the Farzah collect YR 20 daily from each dabbab (there are hundreds of them). Part of this money can improve the situation, and give the terminal a healthy look and disease-free environment. No matter whose responsible, we should realize ‘A stitch in time saves nine’.
A mystery ? or is it hard to answer ?
“How is the money collected from drivers utilized?” I asked. “We have no clue, some of us don’t even know if there is a syndicate! We just pay,” said Mr. Nasser D.
I fail to understand whenever money is in question, why is it always a mystery?
Is there anything you want to say? I asked. “Yes, we are harassed by the traffic police, sometimes for no reason. We are stopped and humiliated. We can’t part with our hard-earned money so they can chew qat. Road conditions are very bad, ruining our cars. Something has to be done.” This was their only request, may one day someone fulfill it.