Hundreds of traditional dolly carts used by porters in one of the oldest districts of Dubai are to be replaced by small, modern, Uber-style pick-up trucks.
Dubai Police said the carts would be taken off the streets of Naif, and shoppers would soon be able to use licensed vehicles ordered through a mobile app.
The move will help to regulate the work of porters and prevent theft and accidents in the area, officials said.
Police recently employed new tactics to eradicate crime in the neighbourhood, including the recent introduction of a plainclothes police unit.
Hundreds of shops selling goods such as spices, carpets and clothing are spread across Naif, and many owners use the services of porters for as little as Dh30 ($8).
"Some men overstaying their visas work as porters. They sometimes steal a box or two from goods they are carrying, thinking no one will notice," said Col Omar Ashour, deputy head of Naif police station.
“The proposal suggests replacing carts with vehicles that look like small pick-up trucks that can be ordered through a dedicated app.
"Each will have to be registered and carry a number plate to help track its route."
Crime is rare in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah – three of the 10 safest cities in the world – but police said that, inevitably, opportunistic thefts happen.
A Dubai Police bike unit was launched about five years ago to reduce incidents involving porters.
Authorities handled 354 cases of theft and accidents in the area in the first three months of this year, compared with 676 last year.
“Random moving of goods on dolly carts has caused congestion, accidents and thefts, but since we launched our bikers unit, these problems dropped significantly,” Col Ashour said.
“We have seen a remarkable decline in the number of all types of reports, from 3,223 between January and March last year to 1,877 the same period this year."
The police also launched its Compass Team, which has 17 undercover officers in Naif to monitor the area.
Col Ashour said the team had helped to reduce the level of petty crime, including theft, by 75 per cent.
A six-member team to study trends and suggest solutions was also formed.
“This team examines reports to figure out reasons behind crimes, then comes up with ways to reduce them,” Col Ashour said.
“For example, the team examined reports about thefts from shops. They narrowed down the reasons behind these thefts to shops hiring people on visit visas.”
An awareness campaign was launched with help from the infiltrators department after the team reported their findings.
The drive educated shop owners about the dangers of hiring illegal workers and also helped to reduce crime.
Shop owners in the neighbourhood said they were now more vigilant regarding illegal porters.
Mohammed Naseem, a salesman at a spice shop, said he always asked for a receipt from a porter.
“We always write down everything we are handing over to the porter and we each keep a copy, so we know what is being delivered,” he said.
"There are a few cases where some porters steal one little thing, but the ones who have been working here for many years are well reputed and their services are used by many shops. It's some of the newer ones who started working recently or a few years ago who steal."
Rouf Teecey, who has worked as a salesman in the area since 2006, said “most porters are reliable”, but there were a few that would have to be monitored.
He said some shop owners started to use licensed delivery services so they could track their goods.
“Many shops use porters because it is very cheap and it gets the job done, but more owners are starting to use licensed delivery companies so they feel more secure,” Mr Teecey said.
“I think if dolly carts get replaced with licensed pick-up trucks, it could offer even more security to shops here and also protect the porters.”
He said the number of workers with expired residence visas had grown slightly since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said these men started working as porters in the area to earn an income.
“These are some of the newer ones who are stealing one or two things from the goods, but the old ones are well known by many shop owners here,” he said.