(MENAFN - Arab News) Motorists and pilgrims on Saudi Arabia's long highways will soon see upgraded fuel and rest stops offering hygienic toilets, clean mosques, good food and quality car repair services.
This comes as government starts its rehabilitation program in earnest of an estimated 10,000 rest stops across the country. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) are overseeing the project.
The government announced the project earlier this year, giving rest stop owners two years to ensure that their businesses meet stringent new quality criteria. The owners also have to contract specialized oil companies and major international fast food chains to set up shop at their rest stops.
Recently the authorities shut down a well-known roadside rest stop along the Jeddah-Makkah Expressway for violating hygiene and safety standards. The Al-Ruhaili rest stop, about 25 km east of downtown Jeddah, has been operating for over 30 years.
Mohammed Baqar, an Indian expatriate, who travels nearly 5,000 km every week on the Kingdom's roads, told Arab News: "I did not find a mosque or toilet at any of the service stations on the Madinah Highway and the situation is worse on the Riyadh Highway."
Kalu Mian, a Bangladeshi truck driver who has been working on the country's highways for the last 27 years, said: "It's better not to talk about the cleanliness of the mosques and the sanitation of toilets on the highways."
Individuals living in remote desert villages own most of the gas stations and allied service centers, including restaurants. These gas stations are poorly managed with dirty toilets. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has lambasted the owners of these stations for the state of the mosques.
The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs had tried over the last four years to upgrade services at these stations. The SCTA has also failed to implement a grading system. However, the government has now allowed the United Arab Emirates' top fuel company, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), to help with its expertise. Other foreign companies have also expressed an interest in operating in Saudi Arabia, threatening the existence of the local operators.
Riad Malik, a member of the fuel stations committee at the Council of Saudi Chambers, said there are 10,000 gas stations and service centers along the country's highways that lack safe and hygienic services.
He said 90 percent of these stations are owned by individuals with no business experience and less than 10 percent are owned by business organizations such as the Saudi Automotive Services Company (SASCO).
He said the service stations in the Kingdom do not meet customer standards, 80 percent of the owners have no professional business experience and about 40 percent do not have permission to operate.