Lebanon bus rewards aim to boost use of public transport

The 'Save and Ride' project was conceived in response to the country's fuel crisis

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When Manal Ghanem got off the bus at her usual stop in Beirut on September 20, she made sure to save her ticket.

As well as getting her to her destination, it promised a reward.

It offered the 32-year-old educator a discount at one of the capital’s popular restaurants, the Cafe Em Nazih, as part of an initiative to encourage more people to use the public transport network.

Started by Riders’ Rights in September to help allay the country’s fuel crisis, “Save and Ride” allows bus passengers to receive a discount at several businesses that have joined the project.

Riders’ Rights has long been a champion of public transportation, which the civil society organisation believes can help achieve “mobility justice".

“Transportation is a right,” Chadi Faraj, co-founder of the bus rewards scheme, told The National. “Our priority is to ensure that everyone has the same access to it.”

In 2015, Mr Faraj helped create the Bus Map Project, which charts bus routes across Lebanon to organise and simplify transportation.

Six years later, commuters are picking up the map “like it was just created”, he said.

“There has always been a stigma around shared transportation in Lebanon," Mr Faraj said. “And it’s our mission to set that right.”

The majority of the population in Lebanon has always relied on private cars. Many households, even modest ones, own multiple vehicles.

People commute in taxis and buses in Beirut, Lebanon. Reuters

But Lebanon's unprecedented economic downfall has made fuel increasingly unaffordable and scarce.

“This crisis can be an opportunity for Lebanon to shift from cars to shared transport and walking,” Mr Faraj said. “It’s important that we take this chance.”

Apart from promoting shared transportation, which is increasingly becoming a popular topic worldwide in light of climate change, "Save and Ride" aims to support local businesses that have been affected by the nation's financial meltdown.

One of Beirut’s most prized bookshops, conveniently located next to a bus stop, is a partner of the initiative.

Halabi Bookshop is a family business that first opened as a grocery store in 1958, and was later transformed into a home for vintage and early edition books in several languages during the early 1990s.

More than 30 years old, Halabi Bookshop is a Beirut staple and a “bucket-list” destination for many, Lana Halabi said.

“We used to have people visit us from all over the country, but business is just not the same any more," the 33-year-old co-founder of the book shop told The National.

During the country’s lockdown, imposed in early 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, visitor numbers to the bookstore dropped. Loyal readers, though, would still order books to be delivered to their homes.

Now the fuel crisis has made it increasingly difficult for people to move around, or to splurge on delivery fees.

“We’ve got to a point where delivery prices are almost as expensive as the books, often more," Ms Halabi said.

The partnership with "Save and Ride" is still in its early stages, but it was formed with the aim of promoting shared transportation and driving customers back to the store.

“It’s too soon to tell how this will go, because the initiative is still new and it’s been challenging,” Mr Faraj said. “But if there’s a time to try to make a change, it’s now.”

Updated: November 06, 2021, 2:53 PM