A public transportation vehicle in Tripoli, more commonly known as a microo or effiko, is a mini bus, often with a blasting stereo and a young, male driver whose tan line hits the cuff of his left sleeve.
The bus tail often rocks as the vehicle maneuvers wildly through traffic. However, the initial impression of the vehicle’s durability may prove deceitful.
Decorated with photography, soccer team logos, and Arabic calligraphy that read “Allahu Akbar” or “Mashallah,” the inside of each microo has its own personal flare.
Though public transportation is run by independent enterprises, prices are set to 50 dirham or half a dinar per person during the day. Starting at dusk, the price increases by 100% to 1 dinar per person.
Buses in Tripoli can ensure a ride, but not always a seat as the cap of admitted passengers often exceeds the number of available seats. Passengers who are later in joining the route may find all of the seats on the bus full.
Instead of getting off to wait for the next bus, passengers stand in the narrow aisle on the bus. It is not until the aisle is completely crowded that passengers are no longer permitted on the bus.
Without signs, or a number system under which buses operate, the efficiency of bus culture in Libya is impressing in the sense that designated routes are understood by residents. So, too is common bus etiquette.
Out of respect or, as I like to see it, chivalry, male passengers give up their seats to standing females even though it means leaning uncomfortably over seated passengers and squeezing here and there for passengers who want off.
Bus routes almost always follow a straight line up and down main streets. The end location of the designated route is what is used to identify the bus route. A specific hand gesture that symbolises the final destination is signalled to residents waiting by the side of the road.
Other than few well-known locations, the city lacks any official bus stops. That means that locals may catch a ride with the wave of a hand. On the bus, passengers simply call out, “To your right,” and the bus pulls over.
Locals standing to the side of the road, but with no intention of catching a bus, often have to wave off signalling bus drivers.
The creative appeal of Tripoli’s bus culture is a result of the culture’s evolution to modern flare, and coveys the improvisation that were made in order to compensate for public transportation’s lacking resources.
Though bus culture in Libya obviously lacks any sort of written or official protocol, it doesn’t mean the underdeveloped system doesn’t work in its own way.
The tendency of buses in Libya to stop haphazardly every half a block, not to mention the negligence for the safety of standing passengers, may seem to depict an unstable public service system. However, Libyans would admit it does the job, nonetheless.
The mentality, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” will not necessarily help improve public transportation in Libya or any other public service for that matter.
However, the inclination to accept life’s small frustrations has long been seen as the only solution to maintaining a level of order in the country. That is no longer the general perspective in the changing Libya.
What fails to improve, will be left behind and forgotten. For this reason, silence is often interpreted less as a form of defeat and more as an optimistic anticipation for the improvements to come.
Previously published in ‘Tripoli Post’ on 30 July 2012