- SERVICE CARS
How it works — Shared taxis, referred to as ‘service’ (pronounce ‘servees’), are the most common form of public transportation in the Lebanese capital. By public we do not mean state-owned, rather we mean accessible to all. They are hailed from anywhere on the streets, and take passengers to well-known landmarks more or less close to the passenger’s final destination. If not already harassed by their insisting horns, you will identify them by the red matriculation plate they display. A standard service ride costs 2000LBP and can board up to 4 passengers along the way, each one paying its individual due. If your destination is relatively far, the driver might ask for ‘servicen’, which means double-service, for 4000LBP.
A little trick: team up with others. You’ll be more likely to pay a standard fare even if your destination is further than usual.
The deal — Once a service stops by you on the road, a deal may or may not be brokered. You might request a destination the driver does not want to drive to. Don’t be put off by their apparent annoyance as they raise their eyebrows and chin in rebuff, it just means no. The driver may also try to charge you ‘servicen’. If you think your destination is not far enough to pay double the fare, refuse. There are plenty of services in the streets and you can try your luck with the next one.
Climbing in a service is a sort of business deal that must be honoured. You both agreed on the destination and fare. Make sure you receive the appropriate change back, and if not, do insist, even for 1000LBP. This is a matter of justice, not benefaction. Trust me, drivers are expert mathematicians: they rarely make involuntary mistakes.
When to pay — The timing procedure in service science follows a tacit understanding. Ideally you should pay two street corners before reaching your destination. The driver then has time to return the change without blocking traffic too long while he drops you off, saving everyone from an unpleasant explosion of impatient horns.
What to say — When the open window of the service car reaches you on the street, pronounce clearly your destination. This should be the name of a neighbourhood, or a well-known landmark near the destination you are aiming for.
“Tafaddal” is the word used to call the driver’s attention when you offer the money. It means: here you go. When you want to exit, say: “nezilni houn”, or “aamoul maarouf” which implicitly means drop me here.
Some likely hurdles —
- Traffic jams: unless you travel at night or on Sundays, Beiruti traffic is unavoidable and painful.
- Detours: if you don’t know the way, the driver might well tour around in order to find more passengers to pick up. Don’t be quick to blame him though, since there are thousands of convoluted ways to reach destination in the city and drivers know best how to meander their way around traffic.
- Gas stop: drivers prefer to refill the gas tank while they have passengers aboard, that way they do not lose time on the road - never mind your time.
- Redundant conversation: if you look foreign, you will not escape the standard three questions which all drivers ask in the same order as if bound by a conspiracy: Where are you from? What are you doing? How long have you been here? If you happen to speak Arabic, then the following two questions will follow: Where did you learn it? Are you sure you don’t have Lebanese origins?
If sometimes boring, service chitchat is an urban melody. It releases the tension caused by aggressiveness on the road.
** You will be lucky if you meet Georgette. To common knowledge, she is the only woman driving a service car in town.
Minivans around Beirut are cheap and often quite useful, if you know where to catch them. They follow a fix trajectory, but can stop anywhere along the way to pick up or drop off passengers. The fare is 1000LBP, no matter how long you stay on the bus. Drivers are often racers, and they will push through traffic at excessive speed and with reckless boldness. That is, if they are not obsessively surveying the sidewalks honking around inviting more passengers to mount. The vans are in despicable shape, you’re likely to be sitting on a lumpy seat, your legs crunched against the one in front, in shuddering creaks. But they work, fill up, and a code of respect is commonly followed by passengers.
When you’re ready to exit, gather your courage and shout out: “aamoul maarouf”! The driver will rush to the right side of the road and let you extract yourself from the compact vehicle.
Independent taxi drivers, carefully selected by L’HOTE LIBANAIS, can pick you up at the Beirut Airport and see to your transportation needs during your stay in Lebanon. Find out more.
The most noteworthy van in Beirut is the #4. Oh what it has seen! It runs all the way from the southern suburbs of Beirut passing by the neighborhoods of Badaro, Sodeco, Monnot and Gemmayze all the way to Hamra along the green line, which was the line of demarcation during the Lebanese Civil War. It separated the mainly Muslim population in West Beirut from the predominantly Christian East Beirut. This van route, charged with history, beats the pulse of Beirut, as people from all backgrounds jump in and out in relentless bustling.
- BEYOND BEIRUT
Dawra Station — Dawra is a transportation hub serving the whole North of the country. From there you can catch buses to destinations such as Byblos, Batroun, and Tripoli. Upon arriving to Dawra, many souls will eagerly try to guide you to the vehicle that will take you north. If you don’t mind adventurous driving, choose a minivan instead of a large bus. They are usually faster.
Cola Station — To go to the South or the East, start from Cola station. You will find there vans and buses that go to destinations such as Saida, the Chouf, Baalbek, etc. To go to Sour, you will get there more directly if you depart from Al Safara al Kuwaitia – the Kuwaiti Embassy. It is just a bit further south than Cola.
- PRIVATE CARS
The above options are all fascinating to explore. But if you are not staying long enough in Lebanon to master the system of landmarks, and if you want to avoid walking under the heat on rough sidewalks in between the drop off points and your destinations, it is worth thinking of renting a car or using a private taxi service. Frankly, the advantages are many and precious. There’s nothing like roaming the streets gazing out the window, appreciating, from a comfortable perspective, life unfolding in different neighborhoods. Once on the highway put some music on, whether old French songs coming from Radio Nostalgie (88.1 FM), Arabic tunes, or your personal repertoire. That is the Lebanese way: sit back and drift.