BEIRUT — Caretaker Minister of Transport and Public Works Ali Hamiyeh participated in a Friday test session of buses donated to Lebanon by France and announced that some of them will be put into service as soon as Monday.
A total of 10 out of the 50 buses received last May will be put into circulation on four different routes across "greater Beirut," according to the general director of the Office of Railways and Public Transport, Ziad Nasr.
He was unable to provide L'Orient Today with details of the routes but confirmed that stops are planned in Nahr al-Mott, Khaldeh and Hadath. The Office of Railways and Public Transport has a staff of 28 drivers that may be assigned to the buses.
The bus fare will be set at LL20,000.
Lack of resources
The decision to operate only 10 of the 50 buses is linked to a lack of resources, added Nasr.
"We do not have sufficient funds to finance the fuel and maintenance costs of more buses," he said without saying how long his office would be able to operate the 10 buses that will be put in service.
The minister pointed out that the 28 drivers mobilized are currently paid only LL2.4 million per month (the equivalent of $55, at the parallel market rate). He praised their decision to accept to drive these buses to "serve the public interest."
Nasr stressed that the drivers have not benefited from the salary increases introduced by decree during the crisis. The 2022 budget — which should have come into effect before the end of the year, but is still under appeal to the Constitutional Council — will triple the salaries of civil servants, whose salaries are still calculated according to the old official rate of LL1,507.5 to the dollar. This rate has been rendered obsolete by the collapse of the national currency.
As for the remaining 40 buses, the ministry and the agency plan to outsource their management to the private sector.
"A tender will be launched as soon as the specifications are ready," said Nasr, without offering a specific timeline. He also mentioned that his office has an additional 45 buses, some of which are in poor condition.
Last March, while visiting Beirut, French Minister of Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari and Hamiyeh signed a cooperation agreement under which France offered the 50 buses to the Lebanese State.
The agreement also includes two years of technical assistance to the Lebanese Railways and Transport Office for the maintenance of the buses and their operation, including recruitment, training, ticketing and route planning.