TRANSFORMING TRANSPORT

Lebanon 2018 | TRANSPORT | FOCUS

The World Bank's USD295-million plans for the modernization of Beirut's public transport set the Lebanese growth agenda forward.

With funding of USD295 million, the new World Bank project in Lebanon will aim at improving Beirut's outdated public transport system. After decades without major urban transport infrastructure improvements in the country, the Greater Beirut Public Transport Project (GBPTP) will serve as a driver for further developments in this field and increase private involvement in financing infrastructure.

The main funder will be the World Bank with a commitment of USD225 million to be paid back in a period of 31.5 years plus a grace period of eight years. Additionally, the World Bank has approved a USD69.8-million loan through the Concessional Financing Facility (CFF), which offers a zero or near-zero interest rate for developing countries receiving refugees. However, mobilization of different sources of funding has been pivotal for the project's feasibility. Foreign private investments are expected to reach between USD50 million and USD80 million, which will be destined for acquiring and maintaining buses. The private sector has showed great interest since this project will be the first one benefiting from new PPP legislation, which was drafted specifically for attracting international investors in infrastructure and reducing the public fiscal burden.

Many feel the absence of public transport in Lebanon. Nabil G. Bazerji, President and CEO of G.A. Bazerji & Sons (GABS), told TBY that is the main challenge of Lebanon's transport sector.

Once completed, the transport system will be a turning point in terms of urban connectivity and social cohesion in Lebanon's capital. The project will connect the center of Beirut with the city's northern suburbs through a 40-km network of bus rapid transit (BRT) lines and 120 buses. Less accessible zones will be connected to transfer points through 250 feeder buses.

In terms of local employment, the project will also be a great boost as it is expected to require 2 million labor days for completion and will guarantee thousands of jobs once it reaches the operational phase, from which about 300,000 passengers will benefit daily. According to Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Regional Director for the Mashreq, “Poor transport connectivity exacerbates the already problematic inequitable growth between Beirut and hinterland regions. It hinders access to employment and services for the poor and other vulnerable groups.”

Environmental sustainability will also be a significant component of GBPTP. The World Bank carried out an environmental impact assessment and concluded that the project abided by the World Bank's standards and was aligned with the bank's recognition of sustainable transport as an important factor for long-term sustainable development, especially in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and air quality.

The economic impact of the project will help reduce the high cost of heavy traffic in Lebanon, estimated at about USD2 billion. As Ziad El-Nakat, Senior Transport Specialist at the World Bank, stated, “The large economic costs of traffic congestion add up to between 5 and 10% of the GDP per year. Infrastructure projects have always employed Syrian and Lebanese labor, but since the international community wants to help refugees, we got this unconditional facility.” According to World Bank figures, there are 1.5 million Syrian refugees, making up one-quarter of residents and increasing congestion by as much as 25%.

Lebanese public plans for improving transport infrastructure go further than GBPTP; the landmark project will probably be followed by other urban developments in the other zones of Beirut and projects at a national level. On April 6, 2018, Lebanon held an international conference in Paris, the Economic Conference for Development through Reforms and with Business, with over 50 states and international organizations attending. The purpose of this event was to announce the Capital Investment Program, the Lebanese government's master plan to get the country back on the path to growth. It aims at raising USD22 million, from which a third will be invested in infrastructure.