ALGIERS: Early morning and the capital of Algeria, once known as Algiers the White, begins to choke under the pressure of hundreds of thousands of vehicles, many times more than it can handle.
Stuck in their cars, taxis and buses the inhabitants of the city can only dream of a future in which metros and trams will whisk them swiftly and cleanly from point to point.
The capital’s human population is six million: every day two million vehicles crowd its many narrow and winding streets which according to Public Works Minister Amar Ghoul is 20 times the capital’s initial capacity of 100,000 vehicles.
The country already boasts five million cars, vans and buses: but every year another 200,000 imports swell the numbers.
By 6am jams are building up in the suburbs, creeping towards the city centre and clogging main thoroughfares all day, sometimes until late in the evening, with predictable results in terms of stress, fatigue and exasperation.
“Everyday it takes me an average of an hour and half to do the few kilometres between my home and my office,” said Laid, who runs a private business in Algiers.
“Traffic becomes heavier and more unbearable everyday.”
New estates have sprung up since 2000 on the outskirts of the one-time city of the corsairs. But public transport has failed to keep pace with the developments and people are forced into their cars.
“There’s no metro, no trams, and the buses are often dilapidated and overfull and are slow because of the traffic jams and too frequent halts,” complained Sofiane, who lives in the east of Algiers and also laments the lack of special bus lanes.
To get the traffic flowing more easily the city fathers in 2004 launched a metro project, began a 23 kilometre light railway tram line and started to electrify the suburban rail network, at present served by diesel powered trains.
The bill is two billion dollars.
As a result Algiers has become a vast building site with work in progress everywhere.
The light railway is being built in the east, the metro in the centre, leaks from water mains are under repair, roads are being resurfaced.
And the frequent police checkpoints set up for security reasons add to the general chaos.
Still, relief is on the way. The first metro line running nine kilometres from the Grande Poste in the centre to Hai El Badr in the east is due to come into service next year.
Also next year a 120-kilometre electric train service linking the eastern and western suburbs should start operations. In 2010 the first light railway connecting the city centre and Dergana 23 kilometres away to the east should open, capable of carrying 185,000 passengers a day.
A second high-speed bypass 65 kilometres long should open in 2009.—AFP