The Mobility Transition in the MENA Region Comparative Policy Perspectives – LEBANON

Lebanon is a small country with more than 1.5 million of its approx. 6-7 million inhabitants residing in Beirut, its capital and main city. The most densely populated city in the country, Beirut is also the hub for most economic, financial, administrative, educational and leisure activities. Presently, the whole country is suffering from worsening transport conditions, and is in vital need of solutions. In addition to the highly congested cities, other factors have exacerbated transportation problems in Lebanon: the high number of Syrian refugees amplifying existing problems in the system after 2011; the economic crisis that was slowly building up to reach its

   Acronyms

TermAcronym
Beirut Metropolitan RegionBMR
     Bus Rapid TransitBRT
Environmental and Social Impact AssessmentESIA
Council for Development and ReconstructionCDR
Conférence économique pour le développement, par les réformes et avec les entreprises – Economic Conference for Development with Reforms & EnterprisesCEDRE
Directorate General of Land & Maritime TransportDGLMT
Directorate General of Roads and BuildingsDGRB
Directorate General of UrbanismDGU
Gross Domestic ProductGDP
Greenhouse GasGHG
Ministry of FinanceMOF
Ministry of the Interior and MunicipalitiesMOIM
Ministry of Public Works and TransportMPWT
MunicipalitiesMUNI
Office des Chemins de Fer et des Transports en Commun Railway and Public Transport AgencyOCFTC / RPTA
Traffic and Vehicle Management AuthorityTAVMA
United States DollarUSD
Parameter Value
 Area 10,452 km2
Population (1)(2)Lebanese4,680,212 (2019 est.)
Syrian refugees948,849 (2019 est.)
Palestinian refugees 476,033 (2019 est.)
Iraqi refugees14,322 (2019 est.)
Unregistered 736,584 (2019 est.) 
 TOTAL 6,856,000 (2019 est.)
GDP (3)54.96 billion USD (2018)
Registered Vehicles(4)2,001,200
Roads Length (5)Classified (under MPWT)6,380 km
Municipalities & Local Authorities15,325 km

1. “Lebanon” at a Glance

Lebanon is a small country with more than 1.5 million of its approx. 6-7 million inhabitants residing in Beirut, its capital and main city. The most densely populated city in the country, Beirut is also the hub for most economic, financial, administrative, educational and leisure activities. Presently, the whole country is suffering from worsening transport conditions, and is in vital need of solutions. In addition to the highly congested cities, other factors have exacerbated transportation problems in Lebanon: the high number of Syrian refugees amplifying existing problems in the system after 2011; the economic crisis that was slowly building up to reach its

worst state yet this year with the collapsing currency, businesses shut down, prices for basic goods skyrocketing and the threat of hunger looming for the poorest people; and the escalating political tensions, mainly fed by the people’s mistrust of the government and their claims of its growing ineffectiveness as primary reason for the economic crisis.

The urbanization rate in Lebanon is around 87%, with the economic and social weight mainly being in urban coastal agglomerations (such as Beirut, Tripoli and Saida). Historically, urbanization in Lebanon was affected by the interplay of global and national factors that gave Lebanese cities (particularly Beirut) the economic and political prominence to become a population magnet. The central urban area around Beirut (BMR) concentrates more than 50% of the population and represents a predominant share in the production of wealth. It also has a very high level of motorization, indicating a transport system quasi-monopolized by private cars (6). The road infrastructure is increasingly reaching the limits of its capacity or even complete saturation in some areas, especially in the BMR. But this urbanization process was done with little to no consideration for probable environmental impacts, violations of the public maritime domain, and other criteria. This negligence left the Lebanese urbanization with challenges and hindrances requiring radical solutions and serious efforts from all parties involved, in order to improve the status quo.

Governance and Legislation

Several actors are supposedly involved in the land transport regulation and management. Laws and decrees determine the prerogatives of government bodies, not without contradictions and possible conflicts. These actors at national and urban levels are the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Public Works & Transport, the Municipalities and RPTA.

  • Government: As shown in the table below, responsibilities and prerogatives are quite disseminated among several authorities and agencies, lacking coordination and allowing for overlapping and conflicts.

Government Functional Responsibilities

Mode     /                Function ProcessPolicy    & RegulationProject   Planning, Preparation          & ImplementationFinancingOperation ManagementMaintenance ManagementUser Information
RoadsDGRBDGRB – CDR MUNIMOF CDR DGRB 
Traffic ManagementTAVMA DGRB MOF – CDRMUNIMUNIMOIM TAVMA
ParkingDGUTAVMA MOIM TAVMAMOIM TAVMAMOIM TAVMA
PTDGLMTOCFTCOCFTC MOFOCFTCOCFTC 
Para TransitDGLMT     
Urban TransportDGLMT     
Vehicle RegistrationMOIM TAVMA    MOIM TAVMA
Rail TransportDGLMT OCFTCOCFTC    

MOF: Ministry of Finance

MOIM: Ministry of Interior & Municipalities

DGRB: Directorate General of Roads and Buildings

DGLMT: Directorate General of Land & Maritime Transport

DGU: Directorate General of Urbanism

MUNI: Municipalities

CDR: Council for Development and Reconstruction

TAVMA: Traffic and Vehicle Management Agency

OCFTC: Railway & Public Transport Agency RPTA (Office des Chemins de Fer et des Transports Collectifs)

  • Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Efforts to implement new transport projects and organize the current mobility in Lebanon are not only made by the public sector and private companies, but also by non-governmental organizations seeking to share their expertise and knowledge to ensure the improvement of the transport sector. With the new investments planned for the revitalization of Lebanon’s road networks (such as CEDRE), several initiatives were launched to gather expertise from different transport stakeholders and academics in order to promote a “sustainable transportation plan” to be presented to the government (7). Nevertheless, in reality, NGOs’ activities might succeed in blocking or cancelling some controversial projects but not in imposing a sustainable vision for the transport sector, which requires consistency, the ability to act and determination from decision makers.

2.   Where are we now?

•     Current transportation conditions

The general context was aggravated after the 15-year civil war in Lebanon (1975-1990), not only because of direct impacts (damages to cities’ infrastructures and networks; cessation of rail transport), but also due to the cumulative lack of investment and regulations in favor of alternative modes. Whereas, even during the hostilities (1975-1990), a railway service was still operating between Jbeil and Beirut, and a bus line linked Beirut Airport to some central districts, such as Barbir / Cola / Hamra.

Continuous economic and political struggles prevented the implementation of a sustainable, efficient transport system and connected infrastructure. In fact, the whole transport system is problematic at its roots; since 1990, all major investments in infrastructure and services have been focused on roads, thus favoring private cars over urban space and public transportation / non-motorized forms of transportation.  These policies, combined with users’ complacent behavior, have led to unsustainable conditions in terms of accessibility, mobility, environmental effectiveness, and opportunities for multimodality in Lebanon The current predominance of private cars(annual growth rate in car ownership) is due to several interrelated factors: the unreliable public transport system, disorganized urbanism, and low constraints on individual motorized modes. It results in an ever-increasing level of congestion, a mobility crisis that has turned into a daily ordeal for commuters, and significant safety issues for pedestrians.

The modal share in passengers’ mobility within the Greater Beirut area shows the current high part of private modes (around 80% of trips use private cars).

Furthermore, the current public transport’s low revenues, along with the absence of organized and efficient management methods have led to a dangerous competition between the available public transport modes for economic survival. This impacts the level of service and lowers traffic safety (accidents, crashes, etc.), as it results in conflicts between drivers taking risks to get clients, which automatically jeopardizes other pedestrians, vehicles and passengers. One of the direct impacts of the growing urbanization is on the country’s modal share. In Lebanon, transportation mainly relies on private passenger cars. The table below shows the number of vehicles by type and its evolution between 2008 and 2013.

Vehicles by type and number (2008, 2010 and 2013) (4)

200820102013%
Vehicle by TypeNumberVehicle by TypeNumberVehicle by TypeNumber2008-2013
Private Cars 1,063,979Private Cars 1,225,428Private Cars 1,409,55032.5%  
Public Cars (Taxis/ Service)13,211Public Cars (Taxis/ Service)22,793Public Cars (Taxis/ Service)24,02781.9%  
Trucks130,121Trucks196,865Trucks189,20845.4%  
Buses10,796Buses16,040Buses12,01311.3%  
Motorcycles197,454Motorcycles219,490Motorcycles360,39682.5%  
Other4,261Other7,092Other6,00640.9 %  
Total1,419,822Total1,687,708Total2,001,20041%      

The table shows a 41% increase in the number of registered vehicles within 5 years (2008 to 2013); which is considered extremely high in comparison to the global growth rate. This generated pressure on the physical networks and transport modes, increasing congestions, bottlenecks, and aggravating mobility and zones accessibility issues. It also further exacerbated congestion problems in most cities. It is, however, somehow expected given the unavailability of efficient alternate transport modes.

Taxis and shared-taxis, operating freely with no specified routes, are the dominant mode of public transport, even though taxis are ‘normally’ not considered public transportation. Due to the lack of large buses and operators, shared taxi, small busses and vans are considered public transportation in the Lebanese context, in addition to pseudo-organized small & medium buses / vans within some mini-networks or recurrent services / routes. The rapidly increasing urbanization allowed their number to grow substantially (by 81.9%), mostly because of public buses’ inefficiency. While the cost of riding a freely-operated taxi-service (that has no specified routes) is relatively low, and the chances of finding one are high (especially in Beirut), this system is not flawless. The fierce competition among drivers leads to continuous and unpredictable stopping to pick up passengers, causing additional traffic congestion, the deterioration of road safety, and increased stress for other vehicles and non-motorized transportation modes.

The civil war that has marked Lebanon’s recent history, combined with current internal tensions and regional conflicts are still affecting socio-political relationships and straining all levels of national life, including the country’s mobility and transport systems. It also affects several international and national institutions, such as ministries, the parliament, embassies, and certain personalities’ residences, whose security requires closing entire districts of several hectares to traffic (6)

Political tensions have hindered the implementation of many studies and transport plans, whether for financial, economic or other reasons. In addition, the economic and political crisis in Lebanon since October 2019 resulted in the delay of many projects’ implementation. In theory, the government’s core sectoral responsibility is the provision of transport facilities and infrastructure through the control of policies, strategies, and the implementation process (8). The reality is unfortunately different.

  • Transport emissions and their effect on the environment

The transport sector has caused an increase in greenhouse gas emissions by a factor of 3.9, reaching 6.1 million tons CO2 eq. in 2013, which represents 23% of Lebanon’s GHG emissions (9). This is mainly attributed to the ever-increasing number of registered vehicles in Lebanon (cars run with fuel 95/98 octane: and all small and large trucks with diesel). In addition, the transport sector also contributes to the greenhouse effect, by causing 61% of NOx emissions, 99% of CO emissions and 65% of NMVOCs. Moreover, fuel combustion for energy production is the main emitter of SO2, with 94% of emissions, mainly caused by the Sulphur content in burnt fuel (9). There are many effective and sustainable solutions that can decrease greenhouse emissions, and thus increase environmental benefits. Although Lebanon is highly dependent on petroleum-run private vehicles and taxi/services for transportation, some alternatives to decrease gas emissions could be:

  1. Public transportation, which would not only save substantial amounts of money annually, but also provide significant environmental benefits. PT can be eco-friendly if it is sustainable, updated and well maintained, since old vehicles generally use more gas and therefore cause more emissions.
    1. Biking / walking (provided that pedestrian facilities are available) do not cause any gas emissions and would therefore be an eco-friendly solution. 
    1. Carpooling would result in fewer numbers of vehicles on roads, less congestions, and decreasing emissions.
    1. Electric vehicles (EVs) offer a low-carbon alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles.
  • Choosing the least-polluting, most efficient vehicles; for example: switching froma vehicle that makes 8.5-km/l to a vehicle that makes 10.5- km/l reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 1.7 tons annually.
    • The ESIA (adopted in 2012) assesses and predicts potential adverse social and environmental impacts, and develops suitable mitigation measures the ESIA approach is now widely used as a tool in decision-making and mitigation of projects’ impacts at a preventive stage.
  • Proposed reforms

In order to improve the public transport supply in Lebanon, and encourage a shift from private cars to more sustainable transport modes, several projects or actions were suggested, but are still not implemented nor fully endorsed: 

˗           Removal of fake public transport license plates, and prevention of illegal competition.

˗ A Bus Rapid Transit system between Beirut & Tabarja, BRT lines within Greater Beirut, and the construction of a bus network system with terminals in Greater Tripoli.

˗ A Mass Transit System Feasibility Study along the existing Rail Corridors for the Greater Beirut area.

˗           The Greater Beirut Urban Transport Project (BRT/Feeder Buses).

˗           A Bus Rapid Transit system between Beirut and Sidon and BRT lines within Greater Beirut.

˗           Restoration of the Railway services.

Moreover, several institutional reforms and programs were drafted by the Lebanese administration, with partial support from international agencies in some cases (Proposed Laws in 2002 and 2005). In reality, however, these efforts have been in vain as no changes in the current land transport laws were ratified, and existing regulations that could be in favor of a more balanced transport system are not enhanced or enforced (i.e. land network hierarchy; verbalization of falsified license plates; implementation of urban strategic mobility plans, mainly in Beirut and Tripoli). The main reason for not implementing any changes is the conflict of interest between companies and politicians, resulting in the deviation of investments in the transport sector predominantly to roads, and neglect of the public transport sector. Furthermore, regulations on vehicle registration, taxation and fees for space use are still in favor of individual modes.

3.   Where do we want to be?

Clearly, transport conditions in Lebanon are in dire need of rehabilitation and improvement within a general vision aiming to increase the public transport share and the enhancement of non-motorized modes. Unfortunately, no noticeable change will be seen in the near future; but immediate steps towards that goal should be taken, with total transparency and commitment from all parties involved. Infrastructure acts as an inter-reliant support system for cities, and is vital to public and economic life. Infrastructure development is a prerequisite to economic growth and livelihood improvements for Lebanon’s population.

The country would greatly benefit from a higher modal share for public transport, a progressive reduction in the number of new vehicle registrations, replaced with alternative transport methods, such as buses and the BRT. Supporting and improving mobility systems, such as the pedestrian environment, can pave the way for the success of the proposed projects.

4.   Short term goals/Low hanging fruit

The transportation system in Lebanon, with road congestions causing stress, pollution and wasted time and fuel, requires rehabilitation. As mentioned earlier, there are many studies and projects that could be implemented to ensure a more sustainable mobility. In order for these projects to work, and prior to any implementation, important steps should be taken:

˗ Enforce transparency from all concerned parties, since transportation projects’ primary goal should be to improve people’s lives. ˗ Involve all stakeholders.

˗ Include strong political control or sponsorship, clear objectives and leadership during implementation and operation.

˗ Support with clear guidance from the central government, including appropriate strategic interests and predictability.

˗ Implement coherent and transparent procurement and funding procedures at the appropriate time.

˗           Provide a strong financial structure.

5.   Long term goals

Lebanon has all the capabilities for adopting a variety of transport modes but, as mentioned earlier, its economic and political problems since the civil war left it highly dependent on private cars. Many other modes could be implemented for a more balanced modal share, including:

−          Integrate non-motorized transportation into transport and urban design plans o       Non-motorized: The advantages of integrating non-motorized transport modes:

  1. Outdoor air pollution can be vastly reduced.
  2. Non-motorized transport modes help reduce congestion. Bicycles take up less than a third of the space for a vehicle, and pedestrians take up around a sixth.
  3. Health benefits from exercising (cycling for 30 minutes a day reduces the chances of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes by 50%).
  4. Favoring social equality and addressing poverty through cheap, fast and reliable transport opportunities; and public space development directed towards all segments of society.
  5. Noise reduction.

Specific plans for major cities (Beirut; Tripoli; Saida and Zahlé) were drafted and endorsed by related municipalities, and funding was prepared. However, implementation is not engaged yet but could be expected to start in 2021 within a whole national reform.

−    Railway: The advantages of rehabilitating the railway network:

  1. Less congestion on the roads with people shifting from car/taxi to trains.
  2. Employment: a new railway network would create significant direct and indirect jobs.
  3. Railways are a very sustainable PT mode; implementing an efficient railway system would decrease toxic gas emissions and thereby positively affect the environment.
  4. Favoring cross-cultural and economic exchange by relinking the French port of Marseille to the port of Beirut, thereby reconnecting the Levant region to Europe with a new railway open to Southern Europe and North Africa via the ports of Beirut and

Tripoli (10).

Although there are plans to revive the rail transport sector in Lebanon, the build-up cost would be considerably high. Significant parts of the right-of-way are occupied by activities or roads; reclaiming them for railway service would require a reorganization plan and a related budget. Feasibility and detailed studies were performed, but require the government’s final approval, as well as the preparation of land acquisition and resettlement plan. Also, the whole funding must be negotiated with international financial institutions.

Implement a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Project: The advantages of implementing a BRT network on the corridors:

  1. Travel Time Savings; BRTs have dedicated bus lanes that separate them from mixed traffic, allowing them to travel more quickly.
  2. Traffic Safety Improvements; implementing a BRT system reduces traffic crashes and fatalities by decreasing the number of drivers on the road, thus creating a safer transport environment for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike; by limiting interaction between buses and other vehicles, thus minimizing the risk of traffic crashes; and by diminishing onthe-road competition with other vehicles.
  3. Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Reduction; the BRT reduces the overall number of vehicle/ kilometers traveled as commuters shift to high-capacity buses. Fewer vehicles transporting the same number of passengers would reduce traffic congestion, and provide the opportunity to replace older, more polluting vehicles.

Reorganize the current Bus System. The advantages of rehabilitating the current public transport system:

  1. Less congestion: buses allow a higher density and increase the roads’ passenger capacity while relieving vehicular congestion.
  2. Promoting physical activity; walking to and from bus stops. 
  3. Cost effective; bus tickets are relatively cheap, and commuters would save money otherwise spent on parking and gas.

Rehabilitation of the currently unreliable public transport system (unorganized schedules for drivers and passengers, no maintenance or control) is an issue that must be addressed immediately, as sustainable transportation, including active mobility, public transportation and electric vehicles improve not just transport conditions but also air and space quality, the environment, economic chances, etc.. The implementation of a reliable and sustainable public transport system, along with efforts to make cities walkable, would significantly improve transport conditions, especially in Beirut and its suburbs.

6.   Tying it all together

Selected Policy Recommendations

 RecommendationsObjective
1Implement immediate actions for short and long-term changesReaching and implementing sustainable, effective solutions for the transport sector
2 Establish an efficient institutional frameworkAddressing the governance issues (legal level)
3Direct public and private investments in a transparent and sustainable way (funding)Limiting private cars’ predominance and increasing the Public Transport System’s share
4Integrate alternative transport modes (non-motorized; mass transit means)Improving the urban space quality (spatial level)
5Increase political will (at local and national levels) and transparency in procedures and procurements.  Effectively planning the priorities; elaboration of indicators and monitoring system; preparation of adequate budgeting

Despite both public and private awareness of the ever-worsening transportation conditions in Lebanon, no real comprehensive vision or strategy has yet been developed; the focus has only been so far on small scattered projects that lack interconnectivity or noticeable long-term effects. This is mainly due to government obstacles (whether political, economic, or topographical), and challenges in space management (with clusters of uncoordinated buildings, especially in the cities, hindering the reorganization of infrastructure). There is also a problem at the level of local authorities in their lack efficient financial management and coordination between various government institutions.

Despite the numerous challenges and barriers facing the transport sector in Lebanon, immediate action should be taken for both short and long-term changes, because the ‘do-nothing’ option will most definitely lead to more problems. This country has the required knowledge and skills to slowly turn the circumstances around and, ultimately, reach and implement sustainable, effective solutions. The primary challenges for the coming period will be at four major levels: 

  • Legal: establishing an institutional framework to address governance issues.
  • Funding: directing public and private investments towards limiting private cars’ predominance and increasing the public transport system’s share.
  • Spatial: improving the urban space quality by implementing alternative modes (non-motorized; mass transit means). 
  • Socio-economic: affordability of services should be secured; all users categories should have adequate accessibility and mobility.

A general vision and proposed orientations were already drafted in previous studies that can readily be used for planning the much-needed changes. What is actually missing is the political will (at local and national levels) and more transparency in procedures and procurements.

7.   References

  1. UNHCR. (2019). Lebanon Fact Sheet. Lebanon: UNHCR.
  2. United Nations. (2019). World Population Prospects 2019: Data Booklet. New York: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
  3. The World Bank Group. (2018). GDP (current US$) – Lebanon. From data.worldbank.org:
https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?cid=GPD_29&locations=LB
  • TAVMA. (2020, July 24). Traffic, Trucks and Vehicles Management Authority. From dawlati.gov.lb:
https://www.dawlati.gov.lb/en/directory-detail/-/asset_publisher/x28bFmDP0Kyx/content/traffic-trucks-and-vehiclesmanagement-authority
  • SISSAF. (2013). Technical Assistance of the Support Programme for Infrastructure Sector Strategies and Alternative Financing (SISSAF). Lebanon: Hulla& Co, Human Dynamics KG.
  • Nahas, C., Semaan, R., Wehbe, R., & Wehbe, R. (2016). Rapport Diagnostic sur la Mobilité au Liban. Beirut.
  • Lewis, E. (2019, February 22). NGOs lobby government on public transport. The Daily Star.
  • United Nations Development Programme. (2018). Institutional Capacity Development of the Railway and Public Transportation Authority. Lebanon: United Nations Development Programme. From http://www.databank.com.lb/docs/Institutional%20Capacity%20Development%20of%20the%20Railway%20and%20Public%20 Transportation%202019-2021%20UNDP.pdf
  • MoE. (2017). Greenhouse Gas Emissions. From http://climatechange.moe.gov.lb/:

http://climatechange.moe.gov.lb/transport#:~:text=The%20transport%20sector%20emits%2023,emissions%20and%2065%25 %20of%20NMVOCs.

  1. Naffah, C. (2019, July 9). Lebanon needs to build a railway network. Executive Magazine.
  2. ELARD. (2018). BRT North ESIA REPORT. Beirut: CDR.


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