The World Bank’s Roads and Employment Project for Lebanon in 2017 estimated the Lebanese road network for almost 21,705 kilometers, of which 6,380 are main roads. The project shows that this network is in bad condition, due to years of poor maintenance and shy investments, which hinders the local economy.
With the latency of governmental projects that would improve the Lebanese roads and the public transportation network, various personal initiatives targeting certain aspects of this issue are arising. Smart Bus Stops is one of them. It is trying to ease the waiting time for what is left of the Lebanese buses.
The idea behind the startup saw the light when Charbel El Hajj (cofounder) traveled to Italy and then to France to pursue his architecture studies. There, he realized that transportation in Europe is much easier compared to the hassle he had to go through in Lebanon with the public transportation. He wanted to contribute to making transportation in his own country just as easy.
Together with engineers Rodrigue Haibi and Ralph El Hajj, he launched H2 Eco Design and Contracting, which was registered in 2015 as a legal entity, to kick-off their first project Smart Bus Stop.
The first step
The Smart Bus Stop resembles the traditional bus stops when it comes to the shelter and to the waiting bench. However, it has solar panels that allow those waiting for the bus to charge their phones or laptops. The stop provides a comfortable place to wait, and lessens the random bus stops by gathering people in one place. This will facilitate the mission of bus drivers, and will also spare Lebanese drivers the hassle of random stops to pick up passengers.
In addition to the solar panels and charging slots, H2 Eco Design & Contracting “will provide regular maintenance,” explained cofounder El Hajj, to make sure their stations will face a better destiny than that of regular bus stops.
After developing their idea and financing it with their own money, the team crowdfunded through Zoomal. They gathered around $4,000 “which was enough to cover the cost of building one bus stop,” El Hajj told Wamda.
A long way ahead
This did not discourage the team who decided to keep working on their social project and communicate with the Ministry of Public Works and Transport in Lebanon.
“The Ministry was very positive and provided us with essential data that helped us with our research, in addition to a license to operate. However, the challenge was convincing municipalities to adopt our solution,” El Hajj stated.
As a tool to monetize, Smart Bus Stop will be placing ads on both sides of the bus stop.
Since municipalities are the main target customers of this project, the team addressed them with three options. The first was that the company builds the smart bus stop for free, while the municipality provides the ads for the stop for a whole year. The second option required the municipality to pay $3,000 for the smart bus stop and get 30 percent of the profits made from ad selling. The third option is for the municipality to pay $1,500 for the smart bus stop without getting a percentage of the ad profits.
The startup managed to install four smart bus stops so far in Beit Mery in the Metn district. It is also in talks with Bikfaya, Bhersaf and Ain Saade municipalities in the same district to make sure their bus stops have covered that bus line, prior to moving to other lines in other areas and districts.
“This initiative is good for people. It saves them the trouble of standing in the rain or under the sun waiting for the bus. It also reduces traffic,” said Abboud Rahal, head of municipality works at Beit Mery municipality.
“But that is not enough. There is a need for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to organize a public bus timetable. However, these stops are one of the first steps towards enhancing public transportation,” he added.
The Smart Bus Stop project was also one of the winning projects at Makesense Lebanon, that is part of the global initiative Makesense. Their mission is to solve the challenges of social entrepreneurs wherever they are, and have an international social incubation program for this.