The increased security vigilance in the holy cities has been a headache for motorcycle drivers used to scooting around town without proper paperwork or helmets. This is also the first Haj where motorbikes have been banned from the holy areas of Makkah and Madinah.
Officials have already impounded about 350 motorbikes since heightened security operations began earlier this month, according to an officer who didn’t want to be named. “Those bikers that were caught riding without helmets can get their bikes back if they bring their helmets,” said the officer at the scene.
Riders without proper documents can also recoup their bikes once they get their paperwork in order.
Another official who wished not to be named said that the motorcycle ban was a response to problems related to hit and run accidents as well as thefts where criminals used motorcycles to navigate crowds and escape quickly. Motorcycles have also been banned because riders in past years have used them as unsafe, unlicensed, one-passenger taxis. Transportation services are in high demand during the Haj, causing a problem with gypsy taxis and buses.
At a press conference held in the tent city of Mina at the General Security Headquarters, Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, Interior Ministry spokesman, said he prefers not to call it a “ban”, but rather simply a way to make the traffic more organized and the safer. Noise and pollution caused by bikes and scooters was also a concern. Mopeds are particularly polluting because they use two-stroke engines that burn a mixture of oil and gas.
Al-Turki said the motorbikes are not confiscated but detained until the owner can provide the proper documents required.