By the end of next year, bus lanes will be introduced on three of Abu Dhabi's busiest roads. The bus system in the capital is only three years old and the demand for public transport is still low, so any effort that gets more passengers in the seats should be encouraged.
As The National reported yesterday, the latest plan involves painting lanes on Bainunah, Hamdan and Sheikh Zayed the First streets. In theory, dedicated lanes would give buses clear passage from stop to stop, reducing travel time and cutting congestion. As cities around the world have proven, bus-only lanes can make travel through busy city centres faster, cheaper and more comfortable.
The trouble comes with implementation. As is the case with any new initiative, a good idea is only as effective as the enforcement behind it. And on this point we have reasons to be sceptical.
Anyone who has ever journeyed downtown on a Thursday evening will attest to how congested city streets can become at rush hour, slowing not only cars but ambulances and rescue vehicles as well.
Removing a lane for bus traffic would, on its face, seem exactly the wrong solution to easing this gridlock. And yet, if implemented and enforced properly, the plan could be the downtown district's saving grace.
The first step will be devising a strategy that keeps all but buses out of the way. Physical barriers might be feasible, though building dividers would probably complicate traffic flows.
The other alternative would be cameras and physical enforcement tools. In London, for instance, cars that venture even slightly into bus-only lanes are photographed, and owners pay heavy fines. In the UAE speed cameras have helped lower rates of vehicle crashes and pedestrian strikes. Bus lane enforcement would seem a logical step.
A physical police presence would also be essential. Campaigns to fine pedestrians crossing roads illegally have lowered the number of deaths. While drivers have a long way to go in learning to yield to pedestrians at designated crossings, jaywalkers are getting the message.
Speed humps aside, any scheme to gets cars off the road and passengers into mass transit is good for the UAE. Working hard to make the bus our first choice is well worth the effort.