The reality of the six-year Syrian war continues to reflect economically on the people of the capital city Damascus, touching the smallest details of their lives. Among these is transportation, which has drained the pockets of the citizens and restricted their movements.
The costs of public and private transportation constitute a burden on the citizens in Damascus, as a resident might spend more than half of their monthly wages on transportation if they use it daily and must travel long distances outside of the capital.
Since an amendment of tariffs for Damascus internal lines in July 2016, vehicle owners have not complied with the new tariffs. These changes stipulated an increase in fees by ten percent on diesel vehicles, and 27 percent on regular petrol vehicles.
In this regard, a correspondent for “The Syrian Voice” stated that workers in the transportation sector have also not complied with the regime’s issued fees, meaning an incremental increase in transportation prices every two months with no decision from the regime to solve the problem.
Furthermore, traffic congestion in Damascus and the proliferation of regime military barriers have doubled the transportation crisis, prompting people to search for alternative such as going by foot or using roadways not generally allowed to civilians.
Moataz al-Damashqi, who works in a Damascus restaurant, has replaced public transportation with his own two feet for nearly four years in order to save money, avoid the military barriers, and escape the traffic that hits the city at rush hours.
Moataz said, “I have walked to work for four years, and the trip takes 45 minutes each way,” He pointed out that much of Damascus’ population is in a similar situation, and gets around by walking for the same reasons.
According to his comments to “The Syrian Voice”, traffic decisions related to public and private transportation do not concern Moataz. He says that taxi drivers are not controlled by fare regulations or the meters fixed to their cars, and they treat their patrons temperamentally and inconsiderately.
In Jarmana, a suburb of Damascus under regime control, citizens pay 400 Syrian lira (0.80 USD) for transportation within the area. However, when travelling outside of the suburb, fares may reach 1000 or 1500 lira (2.00 to 3.00 USD) depending on the rider’s ability to bargain with the driver,according to Moataz.
Moataz says that the prices he quoted are common in Jarmana. However in terms of how, why, or on what basis the prices are determined, the citizens are at a loss to know.
Among the solutions that Damascenes have resorted to is one known as “the military line.” Citizens benefit from this line illegally, through connections with officials and influential people in the state.
Abd al-Rahman al-Shami, a fabric dealer in the Damascus Al-Hariqa market, said to “The Syrian Voice,” “I got a special card that allows me to move around in my car through the capital’s streets and the regime’s checkpoints, by using the “military line.””
Abd al-Rahman was careful not to state the details of the card he has, or the length of its validity, but mentioned that it “is a not a security or military card, and [he] got it from a close acquaintance of an officer in the ranks of the Syrian regime.”
If not for the “military line” card, Abu Ayhem’s business selling and distributing frozen items would have been affected and he would have lost customers, according to a statement to “The Syrian Voice.”
Abu Ayhem said that “the card saved him trouble, ensuring that he would get through checkpoints with ease and kept him from wasting time at them,” indicating that his fellow distributors that do not carry the card “waste a lot of time during search procedures at the checkpoints.”
If transportation is burdening civilians inside the capital, then travel outside of the area is draining them.
Fadwa, a student at the University of Damascus from the As-Suwayda province in the south of Syria, lives in the Jarmana area and must travel a distance of 90 kilometers twice each month to visit her family in the south.
Fadwa, when taking the line from Damascus to As-Suwayda, suffers from the bus offices’ lack of compliance with the state’s specified bus prices. The offices give the excuse that the set prices are not sufficient to cover the costs of their employees, drivers, secretaries, and ticket officers, in addition to the fluctuating fuel prices.
In relation to the transportation sector’s problems, the regime-owned newspaper “Tishreen” published statistics in October 2014 showing that only forty out of an original 190 buses owned by the general company for internal transportation were working in Damascus. Similarly, around 2000 “services” – shared taxi on semi-fixed routes – were out of service on the Damascus lines from an original fleet of 7000 cars. The number of taxis also declined from 26 thousand to only ten thousand.
In exacerbation of the transportation crisis, the capital Damascus has also witnessed population overcrowding as it welcomes large numbers of civilians fleeing from Syrian provinces that have fallen from regime control. These areas, particularly the Homs province, Daraa, and the countryside of Damascus, are now exposed to regime bombing, encouraging civilians to move to the capital.