9.07.2008

Public Transportation: Jordan

I suppose I should finish my "public transportation in the Middle East" two-post series before I head off to Taiwan and forget everything Middle-Eastish.

I have to admit that public transportation in Jordan was not my favorite. Perhaps it was because they didn't have a Metro (and no women's car), or perhaps it was because I had to spend so much money on it throughout my stay, but something just didn't sit right between me and the public transportation system. It was, however, always an adventure, and one that I was lucky enough to have any time I wanted to go anywhere, since I didn't live within walking distance of anything, and people just don't ride bikes in Jordan. (I think I saw two the whole time I was there.)

The most convenient and certainly most expensive type of public transportation was definitely the taxi.

In one of the guide books that I read, it said that 25% of the cars in Jordan are taxis. Which might make one think that taxis would be easy to catch, but that would be a wrong assumption, as I found out entirely too many times.

Most of the time taxi prices are calculated by a meter, which starts at 25 cents and goes up incrementally, depending on how much gas is used. So if you are stuck in traffic, the meter is going to be more expensive than if you were driving on a highway.

Taxis in Jordan are much cheaper than taxis in Israel, and they are even cheaper than Egypt, because they have a cannonized meter which is set by the government. You do, however, have to bargain prices if you are going out into the countryside, or somewhere that the taxi driver probably won't be able to find a customer for the way back.

Taxis also have a set of "rules," usually posted on the dash and written in both English and Arabic, which includes NO SMOKING (which is not observed, but you can call them on it, and they might or might not get angry), don't throw things from the vehicle, and this strange rule: "radio and cassette player prohibited with annoying form." ?! The Arabic makes a little more sense, being يمنع تشغيل الراديو أو المسجل بشكل مزعج (for those readers of my blog who speak Arabic), but I always laughed at the English translation.

Oh, and the final "rule"? "Driver is fully familiar with the rote and Should reach the final destination in each trip." The "Should," capitalized in the original, is the clause that makes this sentence true, as I found out that often my taxi drivers didn't know where to go (like my taxi driver who didn't know where the American Embassy was?!)

The best way to get around Jordan, since they don't have a metro, is the "micro," or mini bus. They have large busses too, but I couldn't ever figure them out, so I mostly stayed away from them.

A micro is about half the size of a normal bus, and they are cheaper, which was always a bonus for me. For 25 or 30 cents, you could ride on any set route around Amman, and for slightly more, you could take a micro to most cities (or villages near main roads) in Amman.

The micro has its "route" painted on the side of the bus, which includes the cities in which it stops (or the main parts of the city, if it is an inner-city micro).

The best thing about a micro is that you can get on or off anywhere along the route that you want. The "system" goes something like this: a micro will start at the beginning of the line, and when it fills up, it takes off. There are two people who work on each micro--the driver and the "micro caller," who walks around collecting the money, tells the driver when to stop, and opens and closes the door. This is usally a man in his late teens to mid-twenties, but once I saw a boy who couldn't have been more than 13 (and he thought he was pretty hot stuff) as the micro caller.

So once the micro takes off, the man walks around, collecting the 30 cents from everyone. He also starts calling off "normal" stops, like "the mosque," "the bridge," "City Mall," and the like. Of course, this is all in very fast Arabic, and if you are not familiar with the route it is more than a little difficult to know where exactly you want to get off.

You can also request your own stop, as I always did when I was going home, since I lived in the "rich" area and most people didn't ride the "dirty" micro around me--they had their own expensive cars and the like. Anyway, I could never fully communicate with the micro caller where exactly I wanted them to stop, since I lived in a remote area, so I would tell them "Elba House," and then when we got close to that company, I would stand up and say, "Stop here. I want to get off here." And then the micro caller would always try to get me to sit down, because I was a woman and clearly I shouldn't be standing when the vehicle was moving, and I had to tell him again, "right here. I want to get off at this street right now!" and the micro driver would pull over to the side and squeal to a stop, and I would get out, most of the time while the micro was still moving.

So here is the system. If you are standing on the side of the road and see a micro coming, you raise your hand and flag it down, and most of the time they will stop, even if they don't have any seats left (if there is only one or two of you.) They just pull over to the side and you hop on and they squeal away, weaving in and out of traffic to pick people up and let them off on the side of the road, and the whole time the micro caller is calling out destinations, taking peoples' money, and asking who needs change. When you need to get off, you just signal the micro caller, he tells the driver, and the driver pulls over to the side of the road, you jump off while it is still moving, and it squeals away.

This is a bunch of BYU students on the inside of a micro.


And these are two looks at the inside of a micro. I found that Arabs really like decorative things, and not just Arab women, either. This decoration with the tassels hanging from the roof of the micro was quite commonplace. And check out those hearts hanging from the rearview mirror?!

My favorite part of the micro, though, was how the cultural interation (or non-interaction) between men and women came across. If a woman borded by herself and there were only open seats by males, the woman would just stand there with a look on her face that said "I am not sitting by a strange Arab man," and then the micro caller would say, "Ok, one of you men need to move so the woman doesn't have to sit by a man." And if no one would move, he would pick someone and tell them to move so she didn't have to sit by a man. Since I was a foreigner, I am sure everyone expected me to not mind sitting by a man (because I am a Western woman and have no morals, right?), but there was no way I was not going to take advantage of this cultural expectation and sit by a man, so when I borded alone, I borded with the same look on my face, and most of the time it worked.

Oh, and people don't walk, by the way--perhaps because sidewalks are unpredictable and have trees planted in the middle of them!

3 comments:

onelowerlight said...

"Most of the time taxi prices are calculated by a meter, which starts at 25 cents and goes up incrementally, depending on how much gas is used. So if you are stuck in traffic, the meter is going to be more expensive than if you were driving on a highway."

Actually, this isn't true. The rate at which cash accumulates increases with the speedometer, so that the taxi driver gets paid more if he can keep his vehicle moving at a faster rate. I know, because in the first week, Bruce and I were in a taxi and the driver randomly decided to gas up his car. I watched the meter very carefully, and even though it took him almost five minutes, the meter only went up 1 qirsh. Yet as soon as we were down the street, it started increasing quickly again. On some of the more functional meters, the rate of payment is actually shown in the upper corner, and watching that I saw that it varied significantly. So really, so long as your taxi driver keeps on moving, he gets paid better--which is why they all drive so crazy.

breanne said...

Hmm, onelowerlight, I actually found what I said to be true--especially since I rode in a taxi to the university every day, and there were several hills between my house and the university. If the driver really hit the gas as he was going up the hill, it would waste a lot more gas and thus cost us a lot more. However, if the speedometer goes up, so does the amount of gas used (to a certain extent), so it is more expensive if you go quickly than slowly--again, to a certain extent. :)

Melissa King said...

Breanne,

Of course I remember you. How do you know Tadd? And you are going on a mission? Where to? Good luck! Thanks for your comment.

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