Studies

Charles Helou Terminal

By The Monthly - monthlymagazine.com | - last updated :

Since the fifties, right until the civil strife in 1975, Riad el-Solh Square, Martyrs’ Square, Debbas Square, and Rayfouli Square have served as stations for buses and cars heading from several regions towards Beirut and circulating throughout the city which became plagued with terrible traffic congestion. Therefore, a plan was outlined in 1969 to establish Charles Helou Terminal (named after the Lebanese president between 1964 and 1970) nearby Beirut city centre and along the harbor. The terminal was subject to partial completion prior to the Lebanese civil strife in 1975 but was not fully finalized and remained a vacant structure attesting to pre-war achievements and war ruins.

Contracts

On 6-7-1995, the Cabinet issued the decree No. 9 entrusting the Department of Railways and Public Transport with running all transport stations (including Charles Helou Terminal) and agreed by virtue of decree No. 8 to authorize the municipality of Beirut, being the owner of the terminal, to sign a 10-year consensual agreement allowing the Department of Railways and Public Transport to manage the station upon its completion (completion costs reached USD 3 million.) This agreement expired on July 17, 2007.

Upon deduction of the terminal operating costs, the revenues generated were distributed as follows: 􏰖􏰁

  • 70% for the repayment of the USD 3 million loan and the ensuing interests
  • 15% for the Municipality of Beirut
  • 15% for the Department of Railways and Public Transport

In an attempt to enhance the role of the terminal, the cabinet issued on 11-6-1997 decree No. 15, giving all public taxis, buses and mini buses in this station the exclusivity of operating transport lines from Beirut and Mount Lebanon to overseas destinations and from Beirut to the North of Lebanon.

Consequently, the Department of Railways and Public Transport signed two contracts to invest the station. These contracts lasted for 10 years and expired on June 18, 2007.

The first contract was signed with Beirut departure station and granted the station a zone for public taxis leaving Lebanon. The zone houses 57 taxi cars as well as rest areas for passengers, information booths and ticket office.

The annual investment cost was divided into two parts :

  • 􏰖􏰁LBP 99 million that increase in alignment with the pay hikes determined by the decrees providing cost-of- living raises for workers in private sectors. 􏰖􏰁
  • USD 150 thousand that increase by 1.5% as of thethird contractual year

The second contract was signed with the Pullman departure station and granted the station the zone equipped for destinations outside Lebanon. The zone contains three stands and eleven precautionary stands areas for passengers.
The annual investment cost was divided into two parts:

  • LBP 45 million that increase in alignment with the pay hikes determined by the decrees providing costof-living raises for workers in private sectors
  • USD 68,200 thousand that increase by 1.5% as of the third contractual year

Rough Start

The violation of the ministerial decree that gave Charles Helou Station the exclusiveness of providing transport services to the North and overseas destinations and the incessant activity of Beirut and Mount Lebanon transport and there was no contracting with any other companies to put the station’s stands in action. Consequently, the Beirut Departure Station company refrained from paying its dues as of the end of March 1999 and the Beirut Pullman Station followed in its footsteps as of early 2005. The two companies attributed their payment default to the fact that the Department of Railways and Public Transport had breached the contract and rented out stands to other companies. In its turn the Department of Railways and Public transport filed a lawsuit against the two companies to obtain the due payments which resulted in slack services that disfigured the station and trigged eco-pollution.

Current condition

After the expiry of contracts in 2007, the Municipality of Beirut issued the decree No. 476 dated 12-7-2007 which did not allow a contract renewal and requested the Department of Railways and Public Transport to hand over the station. The Municipality then started arranging investment contracts of a three-month renewable duration with the companies wishing to use the station until holding a tendering process that would put the station in action. The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation objected to that and asserted that the transportation affairs fall within its jurisdiction. Subsequently, there must be a cooperation between the two parties so that the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation undertakes the surveillance and supervision of the services provided by the terminal and its compliance with all the obligations and the municipality takes charge of renting bus stands and collecting due debts as stipulated by the cabinet decision No. 164 on 27-10-2007.

Since then, the tender hasn’t been launched and the municipality kept hold of the station in presence of slacking services and poor management. The companies in charge of the facility hold the municipality responsible while the municipality argues that this is a transitional phase (ongoing since 5 years) and the companies are failing to comply with their license obligations. Under these aggravating circumstances, the station remains mired in chaos and falls prey to debris.

The companies in current charge of the facility

Saad Travel Company
This is the only company that has the right to operate travel lines from Lebanon to overseas destinations. The company includes around 300 registered cars and has the right to one stand accommodating 8 cars and one duct and another accommodating 2 pullmans and one duct.
The company pays LBP 6 million every season for the Pullman stand and LBP 82 million for the cars stand.
This travel company covers:

  • Rides to Damascus, Homs, Hamah and al- Ladhiquiah for LBP 25,000 per passenger
  • Rides to Halab for LBP 30,000 per passenger
  • Rides to Tartous for 20,000 per passenger
  • Rides to Jordan for 60,000 per passenger

The company has around 15 Pullmans and its Pullman rides cover:

  • Rides to Damascus for 15,000 per passenger
  • Rides to Halab for 21,000 per passenger
  • Rides to al-Ladhiquiah, Hamah and Tartous for
  • 20,000 per passenger

The passengers transported daily are around 450 and one Pullman departs every two hours. However, the passenger traffic has diminished by approximately 80% to reach 90 passengers due to the current events in Syria.
Saad Transport Company also includes Tripoli Express which operates 15 Pullmans providing rides to Tripoli every half an hour. Around 350 passengers travel daily and each pays LBP 3,500 for the ticket.

Connex Travel Company :
The company has 4 employees in Beirut office. It operates 8 Pullmans and 5 buses transporting passengers to and from Tripoli every half an hour and charges 5,000 per passenger.
The company runs one stand accommodating 2 Pullmans and one duct and pays LBP 6 million for rent every season. The passenger traffic is estimated by 350 passengers daily.

Al Jamil International Travel Company :
The company is in charge of one stand that accommodates 4 buses and one duct and it provides transport services to Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Mini buses carry passengers from Beirut to Halab for USD 20 dollar per passenger then passengers would be transported from Halab to the other countries. For instance, a passenger would pay USD 47 for a ride to Saudi Arabia, USD 57 for Emirates and USD 20 for Jordan. The passenger traffic in min buses is estimated at 70 passengers daily although it has decreased to around 20 passengers now due to the current events in Syria. The company operates rides from Beirut to Syria every one hour and pays LBP 6 billion every season.

Haddad and Associates for Travel
The company operates 16 Pullmans daily at around one ride every hour and it covers several Syrian districts among which :

  • 􏰖􏰁Damascus - Homs - Halab and Hammah for USD 10 per passenger
  • 􏰖􏰁Al-Qameshli - Al-Hasakah - and Al-Raqqa for USD 20 per passenger

The daily passengers are estimated by 120 and the company runs one stand accommodating 2 buses and one duct and pays LBP 6 million for seasonal rent.

Zaytouni Tours
The company operates 9 transport lines from Beirut to Damascus, headquarters of the company, from which passengers head for other destinations in Arab countries and Europe. The company charges SP 600 (USD 12) per passenger and the traffic is estimated at 200 passengers per day, a number that dropped to 70 due to the current events in Syria. The company runs one stand accommodating two Pullmans and one duct and pays LBP 6 million for seasonal rent.

Dajla Tours
Likewise other companies, Dajla Tours manages one stand accommodating two Pullmans and one duct and pays a LBP 6 million seasonal rent. It operates 10 Pullmans for Damascus and Halab and charges USD 12 per passenger.
Pullman depart very one hour and the passenger traffic is estimated at around 60 passengers every day.

Beirut Pullman Station (s.a.l)
Likewise Saad Travel Company, this firm has the exclusive right to run Charles Helou travel lines. It has 15 Pullmans departing every one hour and covering : 􏰖􏰁

  • Damascus-Homs and Hamah for USD 10 per passenger
  • 􏰖􏰁Halab, Al-Raqqah and Deir al-Zour for USD 20 per passenger
    200 passengers travel via this company daily.

Al-Hilal for Travel and Tourism
The company manages rides from Beirut to:

  • 􏰖􏰁Damascus, Homs, Hamah and Al-Qameshli for SP 600 (USD 12) per passenger
  • 􏰖􏰁Halab, Al-Raqqa, and Al-Hasakah for SP 1,000 (USD 20) per passenger
    Jordan for SP 1,000 (USD 20) per passenger

Al-Qotb Transport Company
The company runs 18 Pullmans and is in charge of one stand accommodating two Pullmans and one duct. It also pays LBP 6 million for seasonal rent.

The company operates rides from Beirut to Tripoli and vice versa and employs around 20 mini buses charging LBP 2,500-3,500 per passenger. One stand accommodating 3 buses and one duct is dedicated to this firm which pays a LBP 6 million seasonal rent and transports around 200 passengers everyday for the buses may carry passengers on the road between Beirut and Tripoli.

By virtue of decision No.161 issued on 27-10-2007, the cabinet requested to “adopt the mechanisms established by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport with regard to managing and running Charles Helou Terminal so that the station becomes an example for other transport hubs in Lebanon to meet advanced and international standards.”

Unfortunately, the terminal management has failed over the past 15 years to set a good example and passersbys may easily notice the disastrous chaos which attests to the state’s incapability of running such small facilities.

The terminal

The terminal consists of three accommodating around 400 bus stands.

The Ground Floor contains 3 zones:
Zones A and B are assigned for Pullmans and mini buses providing overseas rides and are managed by the following 7 companies :

  • 􏰖􏰁Beirut Pullman Station (s.a.l)
  • 􏰖􏰁Zaytouni Tours
  • 􏰖􏰁Al-Hilal for Travel and Tourism 􏰖􏰁Haddad and Associates for Travel 􏰖􏰁Al Jamil International Travel Company 􏰖􏰁Saad Transport Company
  • 􏰖􏰁Dajla Tours

Zone C is dedicated to all small cars (Syrian, Jordanian and Lebanese) and contains the stands responsible for transport lines to Tripoli. This zone is managed by three companies :

  • 􏰖􏰁Tripoli Express
  • 􏰖􏰁Connex Travel Company 􏰖􏰁
  • Al-Qotb Transport Company

The first floor is dedicated for the taxis using the facility and the second floor is currently closed and out of service.