All Aboard! Double-Decker Bus Makes Baghdad Comeback
|May 30, 2012||Filled under Iraq Daily News|
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – More often seen speeding past Trafalgar Square, British-style double-decker buses are making a comeback in Baghdad, the latest sign that Iraq’s capital is on the road to recovery after years of war and sanctions.
Once a common sight during Saddam Hussein’s rule before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Iraq’s old red double-deckers all but disappeared from use when looting, sectarian violence, and attacks engulfed the Iraqi capital at the height of the war.
Baghdad is still chaotic, with traffic crawling along rubble-filled roads and through security checkpoints that protect government compounds. But the new air-conditioned buses are a relief for long-suffering residents.
“They disappeared after the occupation, but it’s good to see them back,” said passenger Basil Hashim, an Arabic language teacher taking one of the new routes in central Baghdad. “It makes it feel like Baghdad is like any other capital.”
Iraq’s transport ministry says 60 new double-decker buses, made in Jordan, will start running this week on state-run lines. The 500 Iraqi dinar (40 U.S. cents) ticket is half the price of a ride in one of the city’s often dilapidated, packed taxis.
Nine years after the U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam, Iraq’s capital is still messy. Residents rely on generators to compensate for patchy power service, infrastructure is crumbling, and violence remains a constant risk with Sunni Islamist insurgents fighting the state.
Iraq’s government has ambitious plans for major projects from a high-speed train to a metro line. But in a city where corruption is rife and paving a single main street can take years, many Iraqis dismiss those plans with scepticism.
Still, as attacks and bombings have ebbed, Baghdad is slowly coming back to life. Along the Tigris river in the city’s Abu Nawas street, playgrounds, football pitches and restaurants selling Baghdad’s famous fish dish Masgoof thrive at weekends.
City officials have started taking down many of the tall blast walls that once made Baghdad a maze of concrete.
Baghdad’s old double-deckers, were either stolen, or gradually fell into disrepair, as Iraq struggled with the violence that erupted after the invasion. More than 300 old buses were dumped in a north Baghdad scrapyard.
Bringing new buses back to Baghdad has not been without its problems. Speed bumps at security checkpoints and the make-shift electricity wiring that crisscrosses in low-slung webs across many Baghdad streets has proven tricky.
A mortar attack a few days before the buses started running killed one person and wounded six people along Sadoun street area, in a reminder of the fragile security.
But in a city where summer temperatures can sneak over 50 degrees Celsius, the air-conditioned double-deckers offer an alternative to a taxi ride squeezed in with other passengers or one of the fleet of competing minibuses.
“It’s a lot of competition for sure. But they are slow,” said taxi driver Abdul Salam Hamil, his passengers sweltering in his battered 1980 white Toyota. “In the end, there is enough for everyone, we get our livelihood and they get theirs.”
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