Stock Saudi Riyadh skyline
A view shows buildings and houses in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Image Credit: AFP

I sometimes admire the ambitions of our public servants towards causes that make life easy for the residents. But sometimes I suspect they bite more than they can chew.

Over a decade ago, the then Saudi Transport Minister made a presentation to the governor of Makkah on his ministry’s plans to develop public transport in Jeddah. The project was to be carried out in three phases.

Following the presentation by the ministry, the Makkah Province Governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal announced his administration’s plans to implement a number of vital projects in the province, including an SR21 billion tram system linking the various residential districts of Jeddah.

The plan for developing Jeddah’s public transport system was prepared by a Canadian group, which provides a full range of services related to the movement of people, goods, and information within and between transport facilities. The company is a leader in multidisciplinary organisations offering services in four areas of practice: Urban Land, Facilities, Transportation, and Systems. The study by the group for Jeddah would offer intelligent transport plans and advanced public transport solutions to efficiently manage and operate transportation systems through the application of technology and information.

The Governor stated that the trams would pass through and link the 12 main streets in the city, adding that the annual operation cost of the new system would reach SR370 million. “The Ministry of Transport has a plan to operate 816 buses to link the city’s various districts as part of the new plan,” the governor said. Although no timetable was mentioned for the start or conclusion of the project, the Governor added that the new system includes commuter and tourist trains.

The envisioned public transport system, which was expected to use monorails, buses, and trams to link the various arteries flowing through Jeddah’s residential districts, was supposed to bring about a revolution in the city’s traffic system. The project also involved 201 stations and dozens of trams. A metro similar to the one being envisioned for the capital of Riyadh would also be an integral part of Jeddah’s transport system.

The metro would consist of major arteries connecting key points in the city. The governor added that the Jeddah Mayoralty was constructing a number of bridges, tunnels, and underpasses at a cost of SR5 billion to remove traffic bottlenecks in various parts of the city. A new bridge linking northern and southern Obhur creek off the Red Sea was also on the plans to facilitate traffic on the northern end of the city as more and more Saudis kept moving in that direction.

While the function of the Saudi Ministry of Transport is to undertake the design, building, and maintenance of the Kingdom’s network of roads, they are also responsible for the coordination of all surface transport, including bus services and railways. The Mayoralty is a public service organisation in the game of ensuring that we go about in our vehicles with a minimum of pain and heartache.

The governor concluded by disclosing plans to establish more recreational facilities in the city. “Efforts are underway to establish 150 parks in various parts of the city,” he said, adding that Jeddah required 15.74 million square meters of green space, double what was already in the city.

At the time this is welcome news for Jeddah residents who had long become weary and frustrated at the road conditions they faced daily. From traffic congestions to road diversions and potholes resembling mini-craters, motorists in the city had a rough time just navigating around. The toll on nerves and automobiles was incalculable.

That was ten years ago. Since then there have been a number of flyovers that have indeed eased traffic. There has also been a significant number of parks sprouting around neighbourhoods. The metro and tram project appears to have been placed on the back burner for now. But perhaps what has significantly contributed to the ease on the roads and the lessening of traffic has been the large exodus of expatriates who have left the country in recent years as Saudization and the tightening of the economy set in.

The government has been very generous in financially supporting the projects over the years and the Governor is no less adamant that the visions set a decade ago must come to bear fruit. Meanwhile, the potholes remain, a bumpy reminder that there is work still to be done.

—Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena.