Back to school, back to road 'chaos'

To shorten daily commutes, department suggests staggering work and school start times.

ABU DHABI // Traffic "chaos" returned for the start of the school year yesterday, with motorists taking longer to reach their destinations and taxi clients finding themselves in fiercer battles for cabs. The end of the summer holidays brought traffic congestion as commuters on their way to and from work competed with buses and parents ferrying children to and from school.

"It's chaos," said Stewart Nield, an instructor at the Zayed University campus in Shahama. "We were trying to get to work about 7am and it took us 30 minutes. It usually takes half that time." Adding to his frustration was a long wait for a cab at 3pm, as he tried in vain to flag a ride near Zayed University on Delma Street to take him to Al Wahda Mall. "I was waiting about 10 to 15 minutes, but this is of course when the [school] girls are all outside and their parents are picking them up, so there's no way I was getting a taxi then," Mr Nield said.

The Department of Planning and Economy has warned that Abu Dhabi's economy is losing Dh5 billion (US$1.36bn) a year because of traffic congestion. The average commute to work is 45 minutes because the swelling population is putting a strain on the capital's transport infrastructure. The number of vehicles on the road could reach one million as the population is expected to grow to 2.5 million within four years, the department said in a report issued in June.

Its recommendations included staggering work times and school schedules to allow people to start and finish the working day at different times. Younis al Hosani, an Emirati, said he backed the idea. "Give each ministry a timetable so they start at different times," he said. "For the kids, let them start later." Traffic police will be stationed near schools as classes begin and end, said Ahmed al Neyadi, a spokesman for the Abu Dhabi police traffic and patrols department. "We advise the people to wake up earlier to get to the school," he said.

"We are advising drivers to be careful in the street." So far, traffic had not been a huge problem, Mr Neyadi said. However, he thought the situation might worsen when all private schools opened. Sue, a mother of two living in Abu Dhabi for two years, said congestion had worsened since she last drove in the capital before taking holiday about two months ago. "It was bad today because everyone is coming back," she said.

More vehicles on the road during busy times also meant more congestion at petrol pumps. Shamsudin, an Adnaoc employee, said the station on Airport Road near Delma Street was very busy yesterday morning, and he expected the trend to continue with the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan. "There were more people than there had been before filling tanks, especially in the morning," he said. "Because of the time of Ramadan, morning is busy."

Sharjah also experienced traffic jams in areas where schools are located. The return of expatriates, particularly teachers, has been a boon for car rental companies, with Hertz reporting that after reducing its fleet by 10 per cent at the end of June across its 14 UAE locations, it had seen 15 per cent growth in monthly rentals since the middle of last month. At a Sahab car rental outlet in Abu Dhabi, sales staff said few small cars were available, in part because about 50 British teachers had made orders with them last week.

Taxi drivers were also enjoying better business. Najadhulla Kolangara, 29, said he had noticed more people trying to flag his cab down yesterday than the day before. "Today [is] very busy. I am picking up lots of children today as well," he said. "Until the afternoon, customers are waiting for a taxi." More than 2,500 of the new silver taxis have been introduced by the city's seven taxi franchisees. The Centre for Regulation of Transport by Hired Cars (TransAD) has phased out about 800 of the older gold and white taxis.

@Email:mchung@thenational.ae

Published: August 31, 2008 04:00 AM

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