The Damascus Countryside governorate has granted a 3.5-hectare property to an unidentified investor as part of a contract to build an alternative-energy bus station outside the capital. But the plan does not seem realistic in light of technical and logistical constraints.
The Syrian Investment Agency (SIA), which is linked to the prime minister’s office, approved the project in October 2019 with a capital of SYP 20.5 billion. The project was licensed under Investment Law No. 8 of 2007. The SIA stipulated that the bus station be completed within two years, although the governorate has since announced that the station would be ready by the end of 2020.
The land for the project is in the Al-Assad Suburb in Harasta, a town northeast of the capital, and is situated along the M5 highway connecting Damascus and Aleppo.
The electric bus station is separate from another project to refurbish the existing intercity tourism bus station in Harasta and works on it are yet to begin. The electric station will reportedly serve the capital’s East Ghouta suburbs and the nearby areas of East Qalamoun, while the tourism bus station, equipped with large intercity buses, will continue providing transport to Syria’s northern, eastern, and coastal governorates. The tourism bus station in Harasta, and a station for traditional and slower buses in nearby Qaboun, sustained massive damage over the course of the war, as they were located along a front line between regime and opposition forces in East Ghouta. Since 2012, the two stations have been replaced by a temporary station on the Adawi Highway near the Panorama neighbourhood at the northern entrance of Damascus.
The new bus station will reportedly gather solar energy through a roof made of environmentally friendly glass fibres, while outlets in the ground will charge the buses. Plans for the station also include cafés, restaurants and shops.
The station will operate some 800 buses initially, including 500 large Pullman buses and 300 microbuses that can each seat nine to 25 passengers. All of them will run on electricity, according to official statements by the SIA, although it remained unclear whether the buses would be provided with solar panels on their roofs or if they would be run partially on fuel. The SIA also confirmed that work is underway to prepare plans for an industrial zone in the Khirbet Al-Shiyab area, which will specialise in assembling and manufacturing buses that operate on solar energy.
While the governorate appeared keen to keep the name of the investor anonymous, several news sites reported that he is businessman AbdulHakim Mousa, a name not widely known in the Syrian business community. In August 2019, in accordance with Law No. 8 of 2007, Mousa reportedly obtained permission from the SIA to invest in renewable energy projects that would generate 10 megawatts of electricity annually through solar panels, and to link that power to a distribution network in the Damascus Countryside governorate.
Despite the shortage of buses and bus stations, and despite the large-scale destruction of the country’s infrastructure, buses remain the main method of transport between governorates, cities, and villages in Syria.
However, the electric bus station project could prove difficult to implement by the end of the year because of the severe shortage of foreign currency, which is required for the import of buses, electric motors, and spare parts. The recently imposed Caesar Act sanctions are an additional obstacle. Meanwhile, local production will be expensive and technically difficult, posing challenges to the government’s interest in switching to renewable energy. This is evident in the relatively small share of alternative power plants in Syria.