Saudi Arabia is undergoing a once-in-a-lifetime social transformation with Riyadh playing a central role. The capital has a young and rapidly-expanding population that is open to investment, new technologies and having a greater say in the infrastructure decisions that affect the city. These traits we see reflected again and again in the Riyadh-focused results of AECOM’s second global Future of Infrastructure report.
As part of this research, we asked 980 people in Riyadh for their views on the city’s infrastructure and their hopes for its evolution. We found that the citizens recognize the steps being taken to improve the city’s transportation provision, namely through the construction of Riyadh Metro and the modernization of King Khalid International Airport. But they are frustrated by the cost of utility bills and want to see more environmentally sustainable solutions to the city’s infrastructure challenges.
Crucially, for the citizens of Riyadh, smarter, faster, better infrastructure is a team effort. Citizens want to have more say on infrastructure improvements earlier in the planning stage. They’re keen for greater private sector involvement in infrastructure development and are willing to share their personal data to help the city’s agencies improve public services.
AECOM has extensive experience of working in Riyadh and other major global cities. With our network of planners, designers, engineers and management professionals, we have the knowledge and reach to develop and deliver innovative infrastructure solutions that improve lives and connect communities.
Chief Executive, Middle East
President, AECOM Arabia
Driven by Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is undergoing a major economic and social reform program to reduce its reliance on oil revenues and government spending. Key to its success is attracting private sector investment and nurturing an entrepreneurial environment, as well as ensuring plentiful and appealing employment opportunities for its young population, and creating a high-performing, accountable government.
Riyadh, the country’s financial and administrative capital, is at the heart of this vision and well positioned to achieve these goals. Its residents have confidence in Riyadh Municipality’s ability, but want to be more involved in decisions to improve the city’s infrastructure.
In collaboration with Longitude — a Financial Times Company, AECOM’s Future of Infrastructure research harnesses survey data and opinions from over 10,000 infrastructure users in 10 major global cities, including Riyadh, to ask how satisfied, safe, inspired and engaged people feel with their roads and bridges, rail services and utilities.
Riyadh stood out in four areas: eagerness for private sector involvement in infrastructure development, the unaffordability of electricity, reliance on personal cars and taxis, and confidence in the city’s resilience.
Aligning with Vision 2030, 78% of citizens responded in favour of more private sector involvement in infrastructure development, second only to Mumbai (82%).
With 75% of citizens stating electricity bills are unaffordable, most likely a result of the government subsidy removal and introduction of VAT on electricity bills in 2018, Riyadh citizens are around twice as unhappy about their energy prices as the overall average percentage.
Respondents reported the lowest use of public transport of all cities surveyed — just 5% use buses as their primary mode of transport. Comparatively, 70% are dependent on their own car and 17% on taxis to move around the city.
In terms of resilience, the Riyadh respondents were the most positive about their city’s ability to protect infrastructure from natural disasters, cyberattacks and terrorism.
Riyadh’s rapid population growth and heavy reliance on roads to move people and goods have put pressure on Riyadh’s road network. In response, the authorities commissioned several infrastructure improvements involving the construction of ring roads, tunnels and bridges. While some roads are still congested, road safety, connectivity and journey times are being enhanced, and are clearly appreciated.
Interestingly, 46% report an improvement in rail/subway service (versus 11% of the opposite opinion). This is despite Riyadh Metro not yet being complete. Given that 66% of citizens surveyed are confident their city government makes the right decisions about which large-scale infrastructure investments to fund, and the highly visible Riyadh Metro project, our view is that citizens are upbeat about the progress being made with the city-wide metro network and confident it will benefit them.
In terms of utilities, 44% of citizens surveyed reported an improvement in the electricity infrastructure (versus 24% who feel it has worsened) and 50% described the water provision as better than 12 months ago (versus 15% who feel it has worsened). Apart from Mumbai, the satisfaction levels of Riyadh citizens for its water and power infrastructure outrank the other cities surveyed.
The Riyadh authorities are well ahead of their counterparts in all but one of the cities surveyed regarding making it easy for citizens to respond through mobile channels (apps, SMS).
On average, Riyadh citizens have had 1.6 opportunities over the last year to provide feedback to a public transportation provider. Slightly above average (1.2) for the cities surveyed, the Riyadh figure (1.6) is double that of Singapore and Sydney (0.8).
Some 48% of citizens agree that the public authorities communicate clearly how citizens can submit feedback on infrastructure issues, 15% disagree. However, only 14% of citizens feel that feedback requests come at the appropriate time in the planning stage to be meaningful. While this feeling reflects other cities’ findings, Riyadh fares the worst.
Riyadh respondents, however, did have more opportunities than most of the other cities’ citizens to provide feedback on public infrastructure issues over the last year. The top four issues for feedback were billing and payments, price of services, use of new technologies, and methods of communication with customers. Unfortunately, these don’t correlate with the top three infrastructure improvements that citizens would like to see — upgrading of utilities, upgrading of public transportation and improving environmental sustainability (e.g. recycling, solar power).
In terms of which technologies will have the biggest impact on their quality of life, Riyadh citizens share very similar opinions to those of the other cities surveyed. Solar power, fast rail connections to the airport and fiber-optic broadband all appear in the top three technologies in varying orders of priority for Riyadh, Mumbai, Sydney, London, Los Angeles and New York.
Sharing personal data is an activity that most people universally are reluctant to do. In Riyadh, however, only 23% of citizens would be unhappy to share their personal data with relevant city agencies to help them improve city infrastructure or public services. This suggests great confidence among Riyadh citizens in their city’s authorities to protect their data, as well as a desire to contribute to infrastructure improvements.
Flooding is Riyadh’s main natural disaster threat. The city’s rapid urbanization, population growth, lack of natural drainage outlets and impervious road surfaces have led to flash flooding — causing significant damage and disruption as well as loss of life. New dams, which capture seasonal rains, are being developed to help deal with this, and several parks and recreational spaces created surrounding them, such as Wadi Hanifah. Citizens appear to recognize these efforts – registering the highest levels of confidence among the surveyed cities’ respondents in their city authority’s ability to protect infrastructure from natural disasters (only 25% responded negatively), while 64% also agree or strongly agree that the amount of green space in Riyadh has expanded in the last two years.
Compared to previous rankings in several ‘world’s safest city’ lists, 69% of Riyadh citizens told us they are confident in their city government’s ability to protect infrastructure from terrorism. This is significantly higher than the other major cities surveyed, including Toronto (30%) ― which appears almost 100 places above Riyadh in SafeAround’s World’s Safest Cities ranking.
Saudi Arabia takes national security threats very seriously. Its firm approach and defense budget — which is the third largest in the world — no doubt boosts citizens’ confidence in their country’s ability to manage terrorist attacks.
In line with Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has been fast tracking digital-infrastructure advancements to support related economic sectors and start-ups, and also announced plans to train 800 government employees as cybersecurity specialists. Riyadh citizens again recognize these developments, with the majority confident in the city government’s ability to protect infrastructure from cyberattacks.