Urban Crossroads: Unnecessary Trips in the City

الأربعاء 17 كانون الأول 2014
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By Mohammad al-Asad

I wrote an article in this series four years ago titled “Too Many Short Trips,” in which I discussed the apparent and direct relationship between traffic congestion and the number of unnecessary trips we make in our cars. I was reminded of this relationship again when I recently went through the process of certifying my daughter’s high school diploma.

I was told by my daughter’s school to start at the department of the Ministry of Education in Amman’s Jabal al-Husayn district where yearly school transcripts are authenticated. It took me about thirty minutes to drive there. Once I arrived, the process of authenticating the transcripts was relatively straight forward and took me about 45 minutes. Following that, I drove to another department of the Ministry of Education located in the Jabal al-Luweibdeh district, where the process is completed. Driving to that department took me another 30 minutes or so. However, as I started the certification process there, I was told that I did not have all the right documents, even though I had brought with me all the documents specified in the instructions provided by my daughter’s school. I therefore returned home. The drive back home took another thirty minutes.

After making sure that I had all the required documents, I returned to Jabal al-Luweibdeh the next morning. The drive took around 30 minutes. I spent an hour and a half at the Ministry of Education offices there, got the certificate, and spent 30 minutes driving back home.

To give credit where credit is due, the ministry staff members were generally very courteous, and a number of them were also very pleasant and helpful. The instructions regarding what documents to bring, however, were not totally clear. In addition, I must have moved between one office and the other over fifteen times to get documents signed and stamped or to pay fees. I couldn’t figure out the reason for all this moving around between offices. Clearly, the process can be streamlined into a simple procedure that one can complete with much less time and effort.

What I would like to discuss in more detail, however, is not the unnecessary amount of time and effort I spent following up on the certification process at the Ministry, but the amount of time I spent on the road driving there. Had I been able to complete the process the first day, I would have spent about 1.5 hours in my car driving between my home and the Ministry’s two departments. Since I did not finish the process on the first day (and I assume many people go through the same experience), I had to spend another hour the following day driving in my car, bringing the total driving time to 2.5 hours. In other words, going through this certification process meant than an additional car was being driven on Amman’s already congested streets for a period of 2.5 hours. These are 2.5 hours that could have been spent doing something more productive or more enjoyable; and these are 2.5 hours of driving a car on Amman’s streets, consuming gasoline in a country that pays dearly for its oil imports, further depreciating my car, and contributing to the already high levels of air pollution and traffic congestion in the city.

The number of students in my daughter’s class exceeds 90, and they all had to go through the certification process. This means that, on average, a car was on Amman’s streets for a duration of 1.5 to 2.5 hours in order to follow up on this process for each of those students. Just think of the thousands of governmental procedures that people need to carry out in Amman every day, and the thousands of car trips that are spent roaming the city’s streets to achieve that.

Had the Ministry and my daughter’s school agreed that the school would bring all the documents for all the students at once (all the required documents come from the school anyway), the few hundred trips made for this purpose could have been reduced to three trips, and the 225 hours of driving that have been spent on the certification procedure for over 90 students could have been reduced to 1.5 hours!

In other words, if the various governmental procedures that the average person living in Amman has to regularly go through are effectively streamlined and simplified so that people have to visit a fewer number of governmental departments, or if more procedures can be carried out online, not only will tens of thousands of hours  be saved every day for the city’s residents, but the number of cars on the streets will be significantly reduced, consequently reducing the intolerable levels of congestion from which Amman is suffering, not to mention the levels of gasoline consumption, air pollution, and car depreciation.

There are many solutions to Amman’s serious congestion problems. These include improving walkability in the city and developing a decent public transportation system. They also include minimizing the number of trips that people have to make to follow up on their daily needs. A few months ago, my bank made it possible to pay telephone, water, and electricity bills online instead of having to go to a physical location to pay these bills. For me, these are a few trips I no longer have to make each month. Every trip we do not have to make translates into one less car congesting and polluting the city’s streets. I do not have the actual statistics, but it would be very worthwhile to carry out a study of the reasons behind the trips people make in their cars in a city like Amman Amman. I suspect that the residents of Amman make tens of thousands of car trips everyday that very easily may be avoided through reconfiguring how we carry out the different activities of our daily life.

When you think about it, it is incredible how seemingly different and divergent activities are interconnected. If the efficiency of governmental procedures involving the public is improved through streamlining and moving towards more online transactions, not only would it save people an enormous amount of time, bring government costs down, support increased economic productivity, and make people feel much better about the way their government is being run. It would also contribute to bringing down congestion and pollution levels in our city.