Public transportation should enable all people to move and commute efficiently, affordably, reliably, and safely. Such a robust public transportation system would allow people to easily access essential service providers like hospitals and government departments, as well as commute to schools, universities, and work. So, in essence, an adequate public transportation system can serve to uphold people’s well-being, and become a pillar of their economic and social participation. In Jordan’s context, dissonance exists between the aforementioned potential of public transportation and how it operates and serves the population in reality.
To begin with, public transportation in Jordan is not pivotal to most people’s lives. According to a recent World Bank Group report, only %13 of the population in Jordan depend on public transportation. The comprehensive report attributes public transportation’s lack of centrality in Jordanian life to the system’s poor coordination, efficiency, and coverage. These shortcomings are courtesy of several factors, according to the report. One of the main factors is public transportation’s lack of integration, as both the system’s operation and administration are deeply fragmented—resulting in long, relatively expensive trips with many stops and transfers. Another factor is that passengers have little to no access to information on routes or arrival and departure times. The system also has poor route coverage, which leaves people in certain areas unable to access public transportation unless they go to large terminals or stations—and even if they do, their destinations might simply not be offered. Together, these issues render public transportation arduous, expensive, and even inaccessible for many people. However, some people experience even greater difficulty in using public transportation.
People with mobility and sensory disabilities make up nearly 13% of Jordanian society, with 84% of those individuals living in urban areas of Jordan. Yet, the vast majority of public transportation vehicles are not accommodating for people with disabilities, as most buses are not equipped with wheelchair lifts, ramps, priority seats for disabled passengers, or audio-visual accommodations for people with hearing or vision disabilities. Amman Bus and Rapid Transit buses are the only accommodated public transportation vehicles in Jordan, but their use remains challenging for people with disabilities because the surrounding infrastructure is far from accessible. For example, pedestrian bridges and tunnels feature stairs as the sole entry and exit points, which are not accessible for wheelchair users or people with limited mobility. Likewise, the vast majority of streets, pavements, sidewalks, and street-level pedestrian crossings do not feature ramps, aural cue systems for people with hearing disabilities, or tangible pavements for people with eyesight disabilities.
Amman Bus and Rapid Transit buses can also be inaccessible because they simply do not reach all areas, which is the main problem that Mr. Hashem Kalaji faces when using these accommodated vehicles. Mr. Kalaji is the founder of Sam’ak (Sam3ak), a non-profit advocacy organization for the rights and integration of people with hearing disabilities, and Mr. Kalaji himself also has a hearing disability. “Rapid Transit [and Amman Bus] routes do not cover where I live, so I am forced to use regular public transportation”, he explained. “I’ve experienced many embarrassing situations, where, for example, I would ask about the fare and I cannot hear the answer, so I ask the person to speak louder—only for them to begin yelling at me. There is a huge lack of awareness,” he sighed.
To address the severe structural inaccessibility, the Jordanian government passed a disability rights law in 2017 that introduced various accessibility codes. This law requires infrastructure, transportation, and public facilities to be made accessible to people with mobility and sensory disabilities within five years of the law’s passing. Infrastructure to be made accessible include streets, pavements, pedestrian bridges, traffic lights, and road signs (Art. 35); and transportation to be accommodated includes land, marine, air, as well as public transportation (Art. 36).
The 2017 law was met with applause and hope from Jordanian civil society—but now that five years have passed, the applause has diminished and hopes of an accessible Jordan remain unfulfilled. People with disabilities continue to neither have satisfactory access to public transportation nor its surrounding infrastructure. Logistical and administrative shortcomings are a part of why the law is not being enforced, said Ali Taha Al-Nobani, author and president of the Jordanian Writers Society of Jerash—but these shortcomings are not the only culprits, he said.
Mr. Al-Nobani, who lives with a disability that limits his mobility, thinks that the law is not enough to inspire and sustain an accessible reality in Jordan, “Even if the central, high-level government acknowledges disability rights, the field enforcers do not have enough conviction and commitment to disability rights to execute the law to its full extent,” he emphasized. In other words, according to Mr. Al-Nobani, the lack of enforcement of the 2017 law stems from a lack of widespread social cognizance regarding disability needs and rights. In that sense, both Mr. Al-Nobani and Mr. Kalaji agree that “there is no awareness”, and that this deficit informs the inaccessible reality in Jordan.
Making Jordan accessible is a collaborative effort between the government, civil society, and the wider society. On a fundamental level, this collaborative effort should be aimed at increasing the capacity of disabled individuals to practice agency. “People with disabilities are not asking for special treatment—they are simply asking for an accommodated reality that enables them to help themselves,” Mr. Kalaji concluded.