Baghdad, Iraq - On a hot summer day, Iraqi passengers are enjoying for the first time in decades their trip through the city of Baghdad in the brand-new, fully air-conditioned Jordanian-made Elba buses.
Seeing these luxurious double-decker buses in the main streets of Baghdad is something that many Iraqis hoped would in some way bring back the city some of its former glory. "It is a sign of hope to have order and stability back," said Abu Ali, a 65-year-old retired government employee. "It is a start, and few is better than nothing. I hope to see more buses in the streets, and traffic to be more organised, and to see all the roadblocks removed."
Mohammed, a labourer, said that he intended to take the bus just to see if the word was true. "This is very comfortable. I wish they increase the number of buses: people want to feel comfortable while travelling in the city."
Even the drivers, some of them who had served since the days of the embargo, are enjoying their new toys.
|Drivers of the new buses can monitor eight cameras [Ahmed A. Fadaam/Al Jazeera]
Hussain, who had been working as a bus driver for more than 25 years, said that the new buses are really cool. "I have eight cameras in my bus that allow me to see everything going on inside the bus. I have a GPS system, an electronic ticket reader which will be activated soon, and a communication system that allows me to call the main station if anything goes wrong."
The bad thing about these buses, according to Hussain, is that they are equipped with a remote-controlled shut-down device that allows the main station to stop the bus engine if the driver decides to change route.
But for the passengers, this doesn't matter: what really matters for them is the cool air they feel coming out from the vents of the bus.
Raed, a trader, said that he hadn't taken a bus in decades. "The old buses were a mess: there was no order, no maintenance, taking the bus was like a torture." Now, he said, "I'm enjoying the air-conditioning of the new buses".
But even this doesn't always happen - not in a city like Baghdad, where roadblocks and checkpoints are filling its streets. After ten minutes from the launching point, the bus was stopped by a traffic police roadblock. The policeman ordered the bus driver to change his route, but the driver told the policeman that he could not do that because of the GPS system, which would cause the main station to shut down his engine. Nevertheless, he was forced to turn back, and this was the end of Raed's short relaxation in the new air-conditioned bus.