This article and two others in a package of articles about the difficulties transportation can pose for Arab university students were a cooperative effort between the Jordanian publication, 7iber, and Al-Fanar Media. A longer version of this article can be found at 7iber.
AMMAN—University student Khadija Gowda was worried about her final exams but just as worried that she wouldn’t make it to her exam on time.
The distance from Gowda’s house in Tabrbour to the University of Jordan is about 11 kilometers, Gowda has estimated. But she has to leave three hours to get to the exam by public minibuses. Nobody knows when the buses will arrive at their destination. Sometimes it takes a bus 10 minutes, but sometimes it can take two hours or more.
The poor public transportation prevents many public-university students from taking full advantage of their education. They have long waits before boarding their buses and miss many of their morning classes and, occasionally, exams. In contrast, some private universities provide buses for students but charge them high prices. Some students use their own cars but then add to the heavy traffic.
An unwieldy system of running the public buses, which carves bus lines up among individual operators with little incentive to improve customer service, appears to be at the heart of the problem, observers say. The reality is that Jordan’s poor transportation is dragging down the education of the kingdom’s youth. While transportation appears to be a hidden obstacle to education around the Arab region (See related articles: In Damascus, a New Student Craze: Bicycles and A Hidden Barrier to Arab Students’ Education) many of Jordan’s students arguably have the most difficulty getting to their universities.
A survey of passenger satisfaction conducted by the government’s Land Transportation Authority in 2011-2012 found that 35 percent of those surveyed used the system for educational purposes.
A 2014 transportation study conducted by the World Bank found that 80 percent of Jordanian students rely on public transportation. Thirty-nine percent of the students need to use two buses or more to reach their destinations. Public transportation is clearly a barrier to education, especially for girls: 30 percent of families refuse to let their children use public transportation, particularly female children, according to a report by Al-Ghad newspaper on the World Bank study.
Farah Abdel Salam, a student in the financial and banking sciences at Tafila Technical University, chose housing close to the university so that she could walk there in five minutes. But on the weekend she suffers when she goes to visit her family. She reaches the bus station at 5:30 on Sunday morning. Like other students, she prefers to take one of the big air-conditioned buses with comfortable seats and room for bags. Given that it is a two-and-a-half hour trip, she doesn’t want to be crammed with five or six people into a taxi or even more people in a mini bus weaving in and out of traffic. But she has to wait for the driver of the big bus to decide when he wants to start his journey. And she has no idea when she is going to get back to her room.
Student safety can be endangered on the buses. In April, an exploding bus engine gave a student from the Hashemite University first-degree burns. Al-Motakamela Company for Transportation, which is responsible for transporting students from the Hashemite University to Amman, incurred 18,000 dinar fines ($25,330) in 2014 because the company did not carry out the required maintenance and license the buses properly, according to the Accounting Authority in 2014.
The 30,000 students studying at Hashemite University, which was established in 1995 and is 20 kilometers northeast of Amman, have a particularly hard time with transportation, according to evidence provided by multiple organizations and people, including the director general of Al-Motakamela Company for Transportation, which transports students between Hashemite University and Amman.
Each authority has its own perspective on the problems. But all agree that the university doesn’t have enough dormitory rooms. As a result, 8,000 students commute from Amman to the campus, according to data provided by Al-Motakamela Company.
Qosay Al-Khawldah, the head of the Students’ Union, says there aren’t enough buses, and the buses aren’t well maintained. The Land Transportation Authority, however, says the problem is the remote location of the university, and its policy of accepting more students than the transportation system can handle. Abla Weshah, the authority’s spokesperson says, “the university should have accepted only 4,000 students last year, but it accepted 10,000 students without consulting us.”
Al-Khawldah says students have organized several protests, such as boycotting Al-Motakamela buses and walking from the university to Amman. As a result, the Transportation Committee, the Ministry of Transportation, the university administration, and Al-Motakamela met to discuss the situation, and Al-Motakamela agreed to rent buses from other companies as a temporary solution.
Moayed Abo Farda, director general of Al-Motakamela Company, said the delay of the company in securing new buses for the Hashemite line is due to the delay of the governmental authorities in paying their dues to the company. The government is supposed to pay 50 percent of the students’ transportation fees for some public universities.
The problem lies in the fact that government support is not tied to the quality of service, says Hazem Zoryqat, a founding member of “Together We Arrive at our Destination” Campaign, a citizen’s group that is campaigning for better transportation. One of the main problems, he says, is that individual companies own and run public transportation lines.
Qosay Al-Khawldah, the head of the Students’ Union, is not optimistic about the steps taken so far to improve students’ transportation. The buses that were provided were rented from a tourist company, he says, which will eventually want its buses back. “How will they solve this problem for the long term?” he says. He adds that the problem is currently not obvious because there are fewer students enrolled in the summer semester than during other semesters. “By the first semester, [October] we will know whether the problem was finally solved or we are back to square one.”