Unnecessary Trips

Urban Crossroads #134

This article is also available in Arabic
يمكن قراءة هذا المقال أيضاً باللغة العربية 

I wrote an article in this series about four years ago entitled “Too Many Short Trips.” I discussed in it the apparent and direct relationship between traffic congestion and the number of unnecessary trips we make in our cars. I was again reminded of the importance of this relationship 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 that is located in the Jabal al-Luweibdeh district, where the process is to be completed. The drive to that department took me another thirty minutes or so. However, as I started the certification process there, I was told that I do 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 about thirty minutes or so. I spent about an hour and a half at the Ministry of Education offices there, got the certificate, and spent about thirty minutes driving back home.

To give credit where credit is due, I should mention that 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. The process clearly can be greatly streamlined and one should be able to complete it through a simpler procedure that consumes 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 in the Ministry’s offices, but the amount of time I spent on the road driving between my home and the Ministry’s offices. 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 have gone through the same experience), I had to spend another hour the following day driving in my car, thus 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 in 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 in 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 ninety, and the certification process was carried out for each of them. This means that, on average, a car was on Amman’s streets for a period between 1.5 and 2.5 hours in order to follow up on the certification process for each of those students. In this context, 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 as people follow up on these procedures.

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 over 225 hours of driving that have been spent on the certification procedure for over ninety 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 street will significantly be reduced, and so will the intolerable levels of congestion from which Amman is suffering, not to mention the levels of gasoline consumption, air pollution, and the depreciation of cars.

There are many solutions to addressing 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, and it would be very worthwhile to carry out a study regarding the reasons why people make the trips they do in their cars in a city such as Amman. I expect 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 differing and divergent activities are interconnected. If the efficiency of how governmental procedures involving the public are improved through streamlining and through allowing for an increased use of online transactions, this will save people an enormous amount of time, will bring government costs down, will support increased economic productivity, and will also make people feel far better about the way their government is being run. More interesting, however, is how such changes can have other unexpected and wide-reaching positive effects. Very important among these is contributing to bringing down congestion and pollution levels.

Mohammad al-Asad 

December 10, 2014


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