Category Archives: Transportation

Grand Taxi


This is the curbed version of the vehicle known as a “grand taxi.” It’ll take you (and up to 5 other passengers, plus the driver) where you need to go, if you know the hand signals to flash to the driver as he rolls past you on his route.

I most often take the grand taxi from Ben Msik, where my campus is located, to the centreville. The end of the line is Bab Marrakesh, the main entrance to the old medina. For reasons that are murky to me, the signal for Bab Marrakesh is pointing vigorously to the left with the right hand. More of a windshielf wiper motion than a back and forth, “look at this guy” gesture.

Actually, I grab that taxi at a taxi stand across the street from campus, and only need to tell the attendant, “Medina.”

I always make the gesture anyway as the taxis pull up, because I’m the kind of gaouria who likes to feel the rush of knowing the codes.

Look at me! I’m streetsmart!

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Filed under Casablanca, Transportation, Uncategorized, urban life

Rush hour on Zerktouni


**update April 8th with new picture**

I live right near Boulevard Zerktouni, one of the main thoroughfares in the city center which draws a half-circle around the old medina. Funny story: this road used to be known as the Boulevard Maréchal Foch, which nicely illustrates the fact that Casa was originally planned by the military. Poor Maréchal Foch was split in two to make the Boulevard de la Résistance and the Boulevard Zerktouni, after a leader of the resistance movement leading up to Morocco’s independence from France in 1956.

The middle two lanes of Zerktouni tunnel under the Boulevard Hassan II, another main major road in the centreville that branches out from the medina.

This picture of the beginning of the tunnel, taken around 5PM, seems to amplify the rush hour traffic…

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Filed under Casablanca, colonialism, pictures, Transportation, Urban Morocco

Why I love to take the bus


Two months ago, one of the most intimidating prospects of living in Casablanca was taking the bus. Which went hand in hand with my anxieties about finding a place to live, in a neighborhood where I wouldn’t have to catch a taxi every day to get to campus, far, far away.

Why is the ‘tobis so intimidating, besides the fact that almost every time I mention it to people in Casa they cringe and suggest–pretty forcefully–that a grand taxi might be a better option? Bus routes aren’t published anywhere, although sometimes there are signs like the one shown here. The buses themselves are always old, lumbering things driven in the same way that most vehicles are driven here. That is to say, recklessly. Buses are often crowded, and there’s a jostle to get on, to pay, and find a seat.

And then there are the passengers. A recurrent theme in my ‘tobis-related conversations with people here is that no one takes the bus unless they have to. As such, buses in Casablanca are the realm of the working class.

Yet, until the Tramway is finished buses are the only form of public transportation here in Casablanca, the biggest city in the country. Other options include the petits taxis, which can get very expensive over long distances and the grands taxis, which are a kind of hybrid between buses and taxis. Those are slightly more expensive (7 Dh versus 4 Dh on the bus) and, some argue, more comfortable. A seat is guaranteed, and there are usually few stops between your point of departure and destination.

But I prefer taking the bus. This statement has really puzzled some of my friends and classmates, and in fact I’m dedicating today’s post to a classmate who brought this up in the context of a class discussion on travelers and visitors to foreign countries, and the things they notice, or appreciate, or marvel at. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Casaoui who claims to actually enjoy, rather than tolerate, taking the bus.

Every morning, though, as I wait for the bus, I feel safe in my knowledge of which bus to take, and where it will take me. Even after over a month of commuting by bus, this feels like a huge achievement. I hop on, pay, and usually find a seat where I can sit back and either read the paper or a book, or just enjoy the scenery.

By scenery, I mean the neighborhoods that we go through over the course of my commute, an hour each way. I start out in Mers Sultan, on a boulevard with wealthy-looking residences and fancy cafes, and end up on the outskirts of town, with rows upon rows of new multi-family apartment buildings. Ben M’Sik is a quartier populaire, that is to say a working class neighborhood. As I look out the window, I wonder when buildings came up, how they were designed, and who lives in them. I think about how ten, twenty, thirty years ago there was nothing but countryside where some of these neighborhoods now sit. I people-watch, and wonder where everyone comes from. So many people in Casa are from somewhere else.

On the bus I can be an observer and at the same time just a commuter. No one bugs me, I’ve never felt unsafe, and I’m never in a hurry because a) I’m compulsively early and give myself plenty of time, and b) in any case tardiness is not as unforgivable here as it is in my home culture.

I get to relax, I get pumped about Casa and its neighborhoods, and I bask in the satisfaction of overcoming intimidating and unfamiliar situations. When I’m on the bus I feel like I’m right where I should be.
* * *
See earlier post, Taking the ‘tobis’

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Filed under Casablanca, Transportation, Uncategorized, Urban Morocco

Taking the ‘tobis’


Today I experienced my first bus commute in Casablanca on the occasion of my first visit to the Ben M’Sik campus of l’Université Hassan II. (More on that later!)

After taking a cab in the morning, to the tune of 30 Dh, I decided that it was high time try out the buses in Casa. The “tobis” (variation on the French word “autobus”) is much more affordable, at 4 Dh per trip—about fifty cents (USD), or forty Euro centimes.

I’ve heard that commuters can wait up to 45 minutes for their bus, but mine was already at the bus stop, sitting idle, when I left the university. I climbed in tentatively, and confirmed with the few passengers already in the bus that #97 goes to Maarif, a neighborhood close to where I’ve been staying.

I took a seat right in front, behind the driver, and we waited for a few minutes while the driver took a cigarette break before taking off.

The bus network in Casablanca is covered by several companies. I’ve counted three different ones so far. The price is always the same, but the quality of the buses varies. I’m told that the bus I took today is part of the inferior fleet. All buses were sold to Moroccan companies, “pre-owned” as they say, by European companies. Legend has it that the buses end their days in sub-Saharan Africa.

Judging by how empty the bus was when I first got in, I think we started out at the end of the line. The bus got more and more crowded as we went along. Unlike in the gridded universe of Chicago, the bus routes wind around neighborhoods in a way that doesn’t make sense to the uninitiated. All I know is, #97 to Maarif, #97 to Maarif… Googlemaps tells me that most direct route to the university from where I live is around 16 kilometers. The bus trip took around a half hour, although I’m not quite sure where I ended up. I had to walk a ways to get home.

Passengers get on mostly in the back, and pay their fare to a guy who hands out tickets on tiny, slim pieces of paper. Buses can get incredibly crowded. Thankfully, I spent my first trip sitting comfortably, but when I’m walking in the streets I see bus after bus go by, “standing room only.”

As far as seating etiquette goes, I saw a mentally handicapped guy get on and ask a man to relinquish his seat in the front, which he did right away. I offered my seat to an older lady who nearly went flying to the front of the bus when the driver stopped suddenly, but she declined graciously. People were nothing but polite and helpful, despite being crammed in with a very hot and sweaty crowd of riders. The driver kept the front door open during much of the trip, so there was a wonderful breeze.

A few days ago I read an article in the daily francophone newspaper Le Matin whose title translates to: “Buses and taxis: inconsiderate drivers” (Sept. 13, 2010). The main complaint is that professional drivers—well, often qualified as “some drivers”—are concerned only with taking in the most money possible, and in cutting corners and taking risks demonstrate their “lack of respect for the human lives” they’re carrying. The article is actually about El Jadida, another city not far from Casablanca.

Casa, the most populous city in Morocco, also has very intense traffic, in both volume and, let’s say, style. My taxi rides have been ‘fast and furious’ and today’s bus ride was pretty bumpy. Generally, though, even private drivers take all kinds of risks. The term, “defensive driving” comes to mind, only exaggerated and taken to its conclusion: “Expect anything, at any time. That being said, just go for it and let the other guy react!”

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Filed under Casablanca, Transportation, Urban Morocco

One more reason to invest in transit


The Center for Neighborhood Technology, Smart Growth America and U.S. PIRG published a study analyzing last year’s federal stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). They find that for every billion dollars spent on transit development, twice as many months of labor were created than for every billion dollars spent on highway projects.

From the Smart Growth website:

As Congress and the Administration discuss a possible jobs bill, the implication is clear: shifting available funds toward public transportation will increase the resulting employment.

Apparently this is not the first study to reveal that investing in transit is a better better, in terms of job creation, than highway projects.

Download the full report

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Filed under Chicago, Transportation, Transportation development