Muscat could get railway and water taxis to hit net-zero targets

Urban planners thinking big to cater to rapidly expanding city

It is hoped the comprehensive transport plan could transform Muscat. Photo: Broadway Malyan
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A light railway, new buses and water taxis could be introduced to Muscat under plans to transform Oman’s capital in an effort to meet net-zero goals.

The Greater Muscat Structure Plan (GMSP) to modernise the city has been submitted to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning, said Broadway Malyan, the company in charge of urban planning under the programme.

It will be published in the autumn but details have been shared exclusively with The National.

The proposals, part of the sultanate’s ambitious Vision 2040 programme to reduce its reliance on oil revenue, aim to provide more than 54km of transport lines that will put a third of the population within a 20-minute walk of a metro station.

A bus system inspired by Long Beach, California, using 177km of the city’s road network, and water taxis that will run along the city’s 175km coastline are also part of the vision.

“The Omani government has made tremendous efforts in making public transport available for people,” said Dr Deepak Keshari, a resident of Darsait and head of the physics department at the Indian School Muscat.

“However, public transport here can still be costly, especially when travelling off the main route.

“The government should focus on making public transport more affordable, and also increase the reach and frequency of buses within the city, making it a viable alternative for all.

“Public transportation is a lifeline for common people, and with improved accessibility and affordability, it can replace the luxury of owning a car.”

Car-reliant city

Sakina Al Lawati, 30, a human resources professional, says her office is half an hour by car from her home in Al Wadi Al Kabir, to the city's south.

“I have never used public transport in Muscat because we were not accustomed to that when I was growing up. However, in recent years we have witnessed significant developments in this regard – we have seen the introduction of city buses and we also have various reliable taxi service apps,” Ms Al Lawati said.

“I think the government has taken great strides in this direction; however, I also believe that more can be done. We need a well-connected public transport system that connects all major parts of the city.”

There was a population explosion in Muscat during the leadership of the late Sultan Qaboos, with the capital's inhabitants increasing from about 30,000 people in 1970 to more than 1.4 million today.

As Muscat has expanded, the city has become more reliant on cars, as workplaces can be far from residential areas. Fuel is cheap and public transport is still in its infancy.

The country had more than 1.5 million cars registered last year, according to its National Centre for Statistics and Information.

The city is also vulnerable to adverse weather caused or exacerbated by climate change. In October 2021, Cyclone Shaheen hit the sultanate, killing 14 people mostly in the north.

But ambitious plans are afoot. Ahead of last year's Cop27 climate conference in Egypt, the sultanate announced it was committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

Those behind the plans say Muscat has huge potential for tourism.

“The structure plan will leverage the city’s natural and heritage assets, while taking advantage of its stunning coastline to attract tourists, foreign investors and regional talent to underpin this historic capital city’s transformation to become a unique destination,” said Monika Bic, a director at Broadway Malyan.

More than 4,000 of Muscat’s 1.4 million residents were consulted on the initiative.

The GMSP team gained inspiration from European cities such Malmo, Stockholm and Hamburg and found that an increase in Muscat's population density could make a big difference to life in the capital.

If more people are encouraged to live in and work in certain areas, they will be easier to connect, it was found.

To this end, up to 300,000 climate-resilient homes could be built to accommodate a predicted doubling of the population before 2040.

Bilal Hussain, 37, a restaurant manager who lives and works in Al Khuwair but enjoys travelling the city on weekends, said he preferred using buses, especially over longer distances, as taxis were a bit expensive.

“I would gladly welcome more public transport options that are more affordable,” he said.

It is not yet known how much the programme will cost but if approved by the Housing and Urban Planning Ministry, it could run into the billions.

More infrastructure plans

The planned overhaul of Oman’s public transport system comes after bidding opened in March for contractors on a $3 billion, 300km rail network linking the sultanate to the UAE.

The collaboration between Etihad Rail and Oman Rail will ultimately transport passengers at 200kph and freight at 120kph, reducing journey times between Abu Dhabi and the deep-sea port of Sohar to 100 minutes.

Updated: June 06, 2023, 7:36 AM