The public transportations project of Jeddah is back in the spotlight, which is big news for the residents of this city. The project envisages three metro lines, tram vehicles, 816 buses covering around 750km with 2,950 stops, water taxies and water bridges of around 2km to connect north Obhour with its south. The master plan for Jeddah public transportation would cost SR45 billion targeting 30 percent of traffic over 20 years of operations.
Undoubtedly, it is an ambitious project. The increasing number of vehicles on the city roads is chocking the city. Commuting during the rush hours has become a daily nightmare the city residents have to go through in order to meet their lives’ obligations. If you happen to have a school-going kid, and a working wife, then you would be spending an average of 3-4 hours in the car driving them and yourself to and from school and workplaces on a daily basis. Add how organized our roads and how courteous our drivers are to the equation, and you would understand why high blood pressure and diabetes are common among Saudis at a young age.
There are a couple of things that did not go well with me in the project announcement though; first and foremost, the metro project will be completed by 2020, that is five years from now.
Not to be pessimistic or anything, but I have to ask … really?
In project management practices, it is a cornerstone to always go back to the lessons learned and use them whenever attempting to plan a new project. I am afraid all the lessons we have learned throughout the years in Jeddah suggest that it would be impossible to finish a project of this magnitude in five years. We have spend around that period building one bridge and an underpass, it just does not make a lot of sense that building new stations, track lines, acquiring new land, and compensating for privately-owned ones would only take five years.
There is another point that made me uneasy as well; according to the chief executive officer of the “Jeddah Metro” company — the firm that is responsible for the following up of the execution of the project and then operate it at a later stage — although the project will be completed by 2020, it will be opened for public by 2022, after finishing all the operational and safety tests! In other words, testing and commissioning would need 40 percent more of the original time plan in order to be completed. That is a bit weird.
Such big projects are usually completed in phases. And by the end of each and every phase, there could be a deliverable, or many deliverables, that can be tested and accepted while the next phase of the project is on the go. I would understand if there was a six month soft launch period, calculated within the project overall time plan, to test the system and familiarize the operation team with its daily challenges, but two years is way too much.
Having said that, being critical of the announced plans so far does not mean that we are not all for the project and cannot wait to see it up and running. I personally dream of a future when my son can go to his university using the metro, or to go to his workplace riding the tram. The problem is that we are plagued in the Kingdom with project announcements that are usually overoptimistic, disregarding the risks that are mostly unavoidable. What we are told to expect in two years ends up coming after seven, and what we were expecting to finish in five years comes after 10. That is why we are mostly critical and suspicious of any public project announcement. However, it would be really great to be proven wrong this time, nothing would make us happier than seeing the project finish within the stipulated time.