Posted by: sean | February 25, 2010

The classist case for public transportation

This blog has seen pleas for public transportation in Beirut before, as have other blogs of the Levantine variety. But one thing I think we’ve gotten wrong is that, so far, we’ve been preaching to the choir. And we all know about how effective that is. Likewise, appeals to the political class also fall on deaf ears, because, really, why should they care? So it is that I’ve decided to take a different approach to the problem of public transportation: talking to the upper class who aren’t necessarily part of the political establishment.

Beirut, like many other cities, can be wonderful when you’re loaded. Electricity cuts? No problem, you’ve got a generator. Terrible public schools? Don’t worry, you can spend a small fortune to send your kids to the best American or French schools, depending on your fancy. Roads full of potholes? Ma’alesh, you can drive a Hummer. Water shortage? Forget about it, you can just call a company to come refill your cisterns so you can tell your maid to wash that Hummer twice a week. The list, of course, goes on. There’s little need for a state, when you can afford to purchase it piecemeal when need be.

There is, however, one democratizer: traffic. Your newly washed Hummers and Porsches are stuck in the same as the Hamra-Dora bus, the service full of domestic workers and the downtrodden Datsun. No amount of wasta or ill-gotten dollars is going to get you from Achrafieh to Ramlet al-Bayda any quicker.

So, my blessed Beirutis of the newly arrived classes, help us help you. Put your weight behind public transportation so that we, the unwashed masses, can go underground where we belong. You’ll no longer need to choke on the fumes of our 70’s-model Peugeots, or dodge the cab doors as we get in our out of our lowly services. Nor will you need to bother laying on your horns to disperse the jumble of junky jalopies that pollute your air and irritate your eyes even behind your tinted windows and Gucci eyescreens.  Again, help us to help you.

If you put pressure on your friends and former classmates in government to make us a metro, we’ll leave the streets to you, only surfacing to bring you your falafel at Bar Bar or serve you your Nescafe at Uncle Deek. I promise, your commutes will be much more pleasant, and you will have finally been able to buy your way out of that last remaining Beiruti vestige that constantly reminded you that we live in the same city. It will be the best investment you’ve ever made.



  1. I’m a big fan of public transport, but couldn’t the same argument just be used for building a flyover with toll booths? They have these double-tiered roads all over Mexico city and those with the means use the faster, elevated route. Class, again. It’s not the green solution, and most studies show that roads eventually get congested regardless because, simply, people keep buying cars. My guess though is that building a flyover is cheaper than constructing a metro – and causes less disruption. The one big democratizer here, though, is pollution. Everyone gets to share it.

  2. man…metro? Shou mfakar nehna bi Almanya?

  3. A flyover will probably be a whole lot cheaper when you come to think of it – you can just imagine how much ancient ruins you’d come accross tunnelling under Beirut – a project to build a metro which should take a few years could possibly take a decade or two.

    how about a monorail – cheap and enviromentally friendly….oh – did someone say electricity

  4. Let’s face it, ras mel kil m7attit metro 2azeefi… and the stations are the most expensive, so if anything, maybe an overground metro, a la Dubai, which runs along the main arteries, like the main highway from the airport into downtown beirut, with branches into achrafieh, hamra, tayouneh…

    Either way, under or above ground, metros are a contraption for nations and regions in peace… of which we are not (yet) one…

    PS what happened to the Arab Highway (to replace taree2 el sham)?

  5. Yeah, a reliable electricity supply is gonna be a prerequisite for any metro or monorail system. Other green transport options could include a network of short-range buses that run on gas or electric batteries. This might add to congestion, though, unless there was significant take-up. A dedicated bus lane would help, but how well that would work is another question.

  6. check this out:
    a maritime public transport in Lebanon.
    A big scale project with small scale repercussions.

    Finally a common need that can also provide a common space, an opportunity for any transportation hub

  7. Smart, never looked a traffic from that point of view

  8. This post was mostly put up with tongue lodged squarely in cheek, since I’ve pretty much given up on any improvements in the traffic situation. Unfortunately, this is one of the reasons why I try to avoid leaving one neighborhood for another whenever possible.

    At the end of the day, though, the flyover roads don’t seem very appealing to me, although I suppose it would be an improvement to not have to look at the Hummers…

  9. “We the unwashed masses…”
    Who’s ‘we’, White Man Lee?

    Is this a reaction to your getting robbed of a $1.33 and writing to everyone and their mother about it?
    What city in America did you grow up in where getting robbed for a $1.33 would warrant getting an embassy and local newspapers involved?

    You have enough white indignation to power a monorail. Yalla. Priorities. Change we can believe in.

  10. White Man Lee– I thought you were a well-paid foreign hire at one of the prestigious universities that the oblivious Hummer-driving rich send their kids to. I didn’t know you work at Bar Bar. Furthermore, I don’t know of any white Americans who work in food service in Lebanon. Are you schizophrenic? Do you want to see someone about this condition? Thankfully, there’s a name for it. It’s called being in utter denial about white privilege. You can’t marry “below your station” to lose the sanctimonious sheen of entitlement, so just do us all a favor and get used to it already. Okay?

  11. Repeat after me: We, white American males. We, well-intentioned liberals in the Middle East. We, who bring the rule of law. We come in good faith. We sprinkle our conversation with Arabic words. We who seek a cloak of authenticity. We who speak for you, brown people.

  12. خلصت يا حبيبي ؟ أو بعد بدك تطق حنك؟

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