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Report: Lebanon’s traffic lights outage caused by revenue row, not fuel scarcity

July 13, 2020 at 2:20 pm

A supporter of the March 14th anti-Syrian opposition coalition, sits watching from on top of a set of traffic lights , on October 21, 2012 [ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images]

Lebanon’s traffic lights outage has been caused by a row over parking meter revenue, not fuel scarcity, a report by the National has revealed.

Since mid-April, more than half of Beirut’s traffic lights have ceased to function, leaving motorists to navigate the city’s heavy traffic un-aided. The new system has led to a dramatic spike in the number of car accidents, according to figures shared by Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) with the state’s traffic management centre.

According to the statistics, there was a 120 per cent increase in fatal car accidents in June compared to April, when traffic lights still functioned. While, the number of injuries sustained in car accidents increased by 76 per cent in the same period.

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However, contrary to popular belief, the outages have not been caused by fuel scarcity, as is the case with increasing frequent, extended nationwide power cuts. Instead, Beirut’s traffic lights have stopped working over a row between the Beirut municipality and the Traffic and Vehicles Management Authority (TVMA).

The TVMA and the Beirut municipality are reportedly arguing over who receives the revenue, totalling approximately $6 million per year, generated by the city’s multiple parking metres.

According to the National, the TVMA has, for more than ten years, used parking meter revenue to fund traffic light maintenance. However, the municipality believes it should receive the $6 million.

As a result of the row, money collected in Beirut’s parking meters stopped being collected in late 2019, coinciding with the outbreak of nationwide anti-government protests which saw demonstrators attack traffic lights and parking meters.

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In some cases, protesters attacked parking meters for coins while others covered the meters with bin bags and stickers reading “we’re not paying”.

By 10 April, when the TVMA’s contract with Duncan-NEAD – the organisation in charge of traffic light maintenance – ended, the government office was unable to renew due to a lack of funds. Since then, traffic lights across greater Beirut have slowly stopped working.

Increasing outages has compounded Lebanon’s electricity crisis, a result of fuel scarcity, which has plunged much of the country into darkness for up to, or more than, 22 hours per day.

However, though Lebanon is expected to receive new fuel this week, with the hopes this will resolve the current crisis, without a resolution to the row over parking metre revenue, Beirut’s traffic lights are set to remain in the dark.