Public transportation:An ignored sector cries for attention [Archives:2008/1167/Business & Economy]

June 26 2008

By: YemenTimes Staff
Official statistics indicate that the transportation sector contributes between 10 – 13 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Yemen. This sector compromises mainly of passenger public transportation, and commercial transportation of goods. However, the largest focus is on passenger transportation which is estimated to take upto 80 percent of the pie of transportation in Yemen.

Reference to passenger transportation in Yemen is directed at taxi and bus owners and operators as well as microbus, known as Dabab in arabic slang, which is the prime mode of public transportation in Yemen. This report aims mainly at shedding some light onto this sector, and life and livings of thousand of Yemenis who work in this sector.

Thousands of SMEs

There are eight companies operate buses between Yemeni cities, while six companies operate taxi vehicles. However, there are no formal companies which operate in the mass public transportation within the cities, leaving thousands of SMEs or single-microbus ventures operating in this subsector.

In the capital city Sana'a alone, there are estimated to be around 8,000 microbuses roaming around the streets and in junctures, competing for the same number of passengers every day, making up to $ 50 in a good day, but not every day is a good day, the increasing number of microbuses make it more difficult to make a living, says Abdo Hassan, a microbus owner / driver: “I make good money during the morning and afternoon commutes of university students since my route passes by two university campuses, so in weekends, holidays, and the summer holiday it becomes difficult to make a living”.

He added, now with the increasing number of microbuses in my route, the queues at the bus juncture are becoming longer and it takes a longer period of time to load up and start the commute.

Abdulsalam Kohlani, another microbus operator, says that he's owned this microbus for over twelve years now, adding that: “previously, when we were not heavily regulated, if business drops in one route you can move to another route, or even discover a new route, but now we are limited to a single route for life, and regardless if there is construction, roads are blocked, or whatever, you cannot change that route”.

Mustapha, a passenger, says that microbuses are the best way to get around, and previously you had to wait for a while especially at the morning rush hour during the morning commute to work, but now it has become very easy as there are plenty of microbuses who are almost fighting over the passenger, so the waiting period has decreased to a minimal.

Other opinions indicate that there is an increasing number of passengers as a result in population growth, adding that every microbus, in spite of their increasing number is able to have some business.

Costs of Operation

A few years ago, a commute used to cost around 10 YR, and have doubled now to 20YR and more on less busy routes. The prime reason for the increasing cost, according to microbus owners is the cost of fuel, says Abdo Hassan: “Previously I used to rent a Diesel microbus for 4000 YR per day, since diesel is less expensive than petrol, but now I own a petrol microbus which I converted to running on Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), which is the cheapest fuel out there.

He says when the 20-liters of Diesel used to cost 350 YR, the commute was for 10 Riyals, but when diesel is now at 700 YR, the commute costs 15 or 20 YR, however, having converted to LPG, where a 16-liter can costs 400 YR, it is more profitable for me to operate than in diesel.

Another microbus driver indicates that the cost of living has increased overall in Yemen, therefore microbus owners and operates have to increase the price of transportation in order to make enough money to provide to their families given the high levels of inflation and increases in prices.

Taxi companies

The emergence of several taxi companies in Yemen such as Raha Taxi in Sana'a and Al-Katheri Taxi in Aden has highlighted that provision of new and improved services will create and increase the demand for taxi services in Yemen. Raha Taxi on its own has over 600 vehicles in its fleet, while other emerging companies are also cutting into the same market segment. Ameen Jabiri, a Raha Taxi driver, says that the service is highly appreciated especially by women and families who want a safe and comfortable commute around town, but are unable to have their own cars. Adding that he used to drive a microbus but is now able to generate more income through less commutes due to the excellent service which is provided through Raha Taxi. “Traditionally, a taxi in Yemen meant a broken-down vehicle which smells and isn't water-proof, but now you get a ride in a new and air conditioned vehicle for the same amount or even less.”

Competition from taxi companies have also forced traditional taxi owners to adapt, most of the broken-down taxis have been put into retirement and new taxis have emerged on the streets, in an attempt to compete with taxi companies, individual taxi owners are facing several hardships and have developed coping mechanisms, says Jalal Hamid, “i am a government employee but I bought my personal car as a taxi in order to help me make a living, but I found that there is enough competition in the market and roaming around looking for a passenger is a lot of hustle which doesn't prove worth while, so whenever I see a passenger on my way I pick him/her up, otherwise I don't.”

In addition to that, the import of used taxi vehicles from neighboring gulf countries or even the Korean peninsula has decreased the costs of acquiring a new taxi vehicle, while several of these vehicles have been designed to work on LPG which make it more feasible for a new entrant into the taxi business.

Development of a Sector

The Ministry of transport is clearly aware of the importance of this sector to the local economy and the livelihood of many Yemenis, therefore it has developed a strategy focusing on the development of an extensive road network to include feeder roads especially in rural areas, in order to provide a much-needed service for rural people, as well as provide new opportunities in the transportation sector. Development of new roads and expansion of existing ones will help this sector to a great extent through decreasing traffic congestion and linking more rural areas to urban centers, thereby decreasing the cost of passenger and commercial transport in turn driving rural development as well.