Published June 4, 2013 - Muscat Daily. Click here to view the article on their website.
Rest assured that this is probably the last of my happy travel columns for a little while. I spent the past two weeks abroad in Sweden for a conference then Switzerland for a few days to visit a special friend of mine whom I failed by not bringing nearly enough sunshine from Oman for her.
Upon my return to sweltering Salalah a couple of days ago my family, friends and colleagues wanted to hear all about Europe (by now they’ve gotten used to the fact that the world won’t stop if a young Dhofari woman travels on her own).
Although Sweden is incredible and Switzerland is breathtaking, the one thing I ended up gushing non-stop about was the Swiss public transport system. Public transport in Switzerland is considered one of the world’s greatest success stories.
Of course, this success can be attributed mostly to the Swiss people’s unconditional acceptance of public transport as a way of life. From what I observed, most people leave their cars at home and simply use public transport for their day-to-day needs. There was very little traffic compared to Oman.
The level of incredibly high efficiency of transport companies is something that had me in awe most of the time. Inter-city trains leave almost every half hour. Buses come around almost every five to ten minutes.
Trams are even more efficient. Even remote villages in the mountains are connected to the magical transport network. Taxis are literally non-existent compared to London and the invasion of black cabs or Muttrah corniche during tourist-season.
For example, if I’m catching a train to Geneva at 8.05 in the morning I would need to head to the bus stop at 7.50 because I know for sure my bus will arrive at 7.53 and have me at the station at 7.57 just in time to pick up a coffee and be ready for the train to come whizzing through for its one-minute stop.
Where else in the world do trains, buses and trams arrive almost exactly on time? I knew the Swiss were organised and punctual people before my visit, but I had no idea just how efficient this clock-making nation is until I experienced it for myself. Switzerland, I tip my hat to you!
Naturally, I spent half my visit envisioning this phenomenal transport system in Oman. Don’t roll your eyes just yet.
Many of us have read about the new rail network that is being built in Oman connecting major cities and towns. Honestly speaking, I don’t think it will be very successful in transporting people just yet but it’s definitely needed to transport goods. Trucks on our highways are hazardous.
However, Oman is going to have to start thinking seriously about efficient public transport. This generation may not totally buy into it but future generations will if the government markets it properly with good leadership. Let’s face it; oil isn’t going to be available in abundance forever.
Furthermore, Omanis are obsessed with cars. The minute a young person gets a job, he will go into debt for years to buy his dream car. People spend more money on their cars than they do on education and basic life necessities like food.
Our obsession with cars and lack of public transport causes accidents, traffic congestion, road rage, and overall frustration. The only available means of public transport are the occasional baiza buses that poor labourers use to make their way across Muscat and one too many un-metered taxis. In other words, we don’t have a choice.
Inter-city buses are available but they’re extremely uncomfortable and often unhygienic. It’s not for me to say whether our local city infrastructure is ready for an efficient public bus system just yet but I hope the Ministry of Transport and Communications has plans for the future.
Building air-conditioned bus shelters, dedicated bus lanes, and state-of-the-art buses with a women’s section is not far-fetched if you think about it.
An efficient rail system cannot succeed without the support of an efficient bus system in my humble opinion. Obviously, the idea of a subway system is out of the question for now. What do you think? Is efficient public transport an urgent need? Would Omanis use it?