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Most public transportation in Kuwait was halted on March 12; taxis were halted a week later. Services are still inactive. Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Kuwait City: As life slowly returns to normal in Kuwait, traffic has surged due to the ongoing closure of public transportation. This is because personal cars have been transformed into taxis to provide transportation services for residents.

“Official taxis have not begun operating, but I do see some familiar patterns to taxis (cars roaming in circles). These restrictions are forcing people into the grey market, which does not have any safety/sanitary specification enforced,” Jassim Al Awadhi, founder of Kuwait Commute, told Gulf News. Established in 2018, Kuwait Commute is a social initiative that raises awareness about Kuwait’s public transport system and aims to implement feasible solutions to address traffic issues.

Most public transportation was halted on March 12; taxis were halted a week later. Services are still inactive.

“Public transport has been halted due to the fact that only a very small portion of society uses it. These individuals do not have access to private cars due to legal/financial restrictions,” Al Awadhi explained.

Based on the government’s five-phase plan, public transportation is scheduled to resume during phase 4.

“Kuwait’s public transport as per UITP [the international organisation for public transport] is legal but not regulated. Most regulations are initiatives by the operators. I heard from operators that they have measures in mind but I am not aware of them,” Al Awadhi said.

Seven agencies share the responsibility for public transport, from the Minister of Interior to the Kuwait National Petroleum Company.

Public transport users

In 2016, use of public transport was 2 per cent, a drop from 5 per cent back in 2006, while private car usage increased by 65 per cent between 2006 and 2016.

“The only affected segment of society is the 2 per cent who use it. As for non users, they witness the disarray caused by competition between bus companies, resulting in a penny war. Each bus driver is incentivised to pick up passengers (25 fils or Dh3 per head),” Al Awadhi said.

Private cars make up 80 per cent of vehicles on the road, with around 1.6 million cars, according to statistics from the Ministry of Interior.

“Kuwait’s policy to deal with traffic is Predict and Provide, which is to predict the number of cars in a certain area and then provide infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.). This is incentiving drivers to use private transport is creating a vicious cycle,” Al Awadhi pointed out.

Affect on public health

According to a study by Lancet Planetary Health, Kuwait has the highest rate of new childhood asthma cases due to traffic pollution.

“The issue with transport pollution in Kuwait is mainly because the diesel being used is Euro 3 Grade which is supplied by the only fuel supplier, KNPC, and there is no alternative,” explained Al Awadhi, “Another issue is that no government agency has equipment to measure the emissions of vehicles in general. The Clean Fuel project/4th Refinery is close to producing cleaner diesel but there is no plan to incorporate new diesel for public transportation.”