A driver’s view of public transportation

While the GCC at large often seems to base its infrastructural development on that of the UAE – take Doha metro, for example – I often wonder where the UAE turns for inspiration. 

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While the GCC at large often seems to base its infrastructural development on that of the UAE – take Doha metro, for example – I often wonder where the UAE turns for inspiration.

I always thought Dubai must have based its roads on those of Los Angeles, a city where you have to drive to get anywhere. Both cities are spread out and both have high-rises constantly coming up faster than infrastructure can accommodate. Compounding this, they both have hot summers. A perfect storm of traffic.

Trying to navigate Jumeriah Lakes Towers or Dubai Marina their busiest, let alone Sheikh Zayed Road on a Thursday evening, is an upsetting ordeal. I really like The Walk, but I hardly ever go for this very reason.

The result of this is an unfriendly culture of driving, with everybody either so wound up by traffic or paranoid of being held up that they disregard social conscience. But that’s another story.

For all its efforts, I still find Dubai to be very much a driver’s city. Of course, it invests huge amounts of money in public transportation; the metro, the tram, new buses, etc. The metro did initially seem to alleviate traffic, but the nearest stop to my house is a 20-minute walk, which would be fine in Europe, but not when its 50 degrees outside. Like buses, though, it is cheap.

I rememeber the 2008 financial crisis was a relief in one respect – the exodus of foreign workers meant much less traffic. I rarely struggled to book or hail a taxi. However, as Dubai returned to prosperity, inevitably people returned. Traffic is, once again, severe.

I personally don’t have much of a choice in the matter – I feel that I have to drive. I live in Dubai and work in Abu Dhabi. I suppose I could take the bus, but this would take me a very long time and I couldn’t ever perfectly time my journey. Moreover, it’s terrifying enough driving here with all the insane driving that goes on – I wouldn’t have the mettle to cycle amongst cars without a box of aluminium surrounding me.

But, to be fair, even if I did have more of a choice, I think I would still choose driving. Perhaps I haven’t engaged enough with the local public transportation system to make an objective statement, but I don’t feel it would work for me. Despite how unpleasant it is to drive to work, I like the convenience of knowing well enough how long it’s going to take me to get somewhere, and being able to go whenever I want. Plus, I enjoy the privacy. And being able to blast out some Floyd – with the volume all the way up to 11.

In the UK, I wouldn’t even consider having a car. For me, it wouldn’t be worth the cost. The public transport systems tend to be excellent. Sheffield has an great tram with its own lane. Not only is it a really convenient form of public transport but, because of its reliability, it alleviates road traffic too. In Oxford, I was rarely more than a five-minute walk away from a bus stop.

The population is going to keep rising, especially in the build up to Expo 2020 and it is crucial to ensure that the infrastructure surrounding new high-rises is capable of large influxes of traffic. The bus-lane system is a really good one. Or better yet, in the Netherlands, public transportation actually runs into a building at the Hague. Being dropped off in the office? Now, that I dig.

Follow Hareth on twitter @harethb