Bright future for Dubai's trains, cabs, buses and boats

The RTA has now been tackling tailbacks, maintenance and accessibility issues on public transport in Dubai for five years.

DUBAI // Five years ago, transport officials were challenged to find ways to fuse public transit options, remove bottlenecks to reaching other emirates and ensure the Metro touches every corner of Dubai.

They were the key issues identified by urban planners, engineers and residents after the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) took over from Dubai Municipality as the emirate's public transport operator.

While a lack of regulation and a clear plan to solve traffic congestion marked the years before the RTA, advance preparation and maintaining a roads network spanning about 10,800 kilometres are seen by some to be the agency's main challenge in coming decades.

"Dubai is the centre of the Emirates, where people from all over come in and leave at the day's end," said Abdullah Alshamsi, a civil engineer who is vice chancellor of the British University in Dubai. "The biggest job will be the roads, which will the big task for the future."

Dr Alshamsi, an Emirati who has seen Dubai grow by leaps and bounds over the past 50 years, says resolving tailbacks between emirates is crucial, pointing out the near-constant traffic snarls on the Emirates Road to Sharjah as an example. He predicted that making all of Dubai accessible will be critical to establishing it as a major public transport hub.

"If I want to use the Metro I should be able to use it from my house to my destination," he said. "In London, Paris or New York you can use just the train. We are not there yet, but you cannot expect that in five years. Maybe in another 10 to 20 years."

Major strides have been made in laying new roads, increasing the number of public bus and taxis and establishing the Metro to speed up movement in the emirate.

The RTA transport plan of more than Dh32 billion includes the Dh29 billion cost of the Metro, as well as the cost of buses and marine transport

"The huge investments pumped by the Government of Dubai into developing the infrastructure of the transport sector have proved successful," said Mattar al Tayer, the RTA chairman and executive director. "Our aim is to lure more people to use public transport, leaving their private cars at home whenever possible."

That effort appears to be working. The use of public transport has doubled to 12 per cent of the population since 2005, with the RTA eyeing a 30 per cent target by 2020 through an ambitious plan to link the Metro, bus lines, marine transport and taxis in an unbroken chain.

Sixteen stops were added to the Metro's Red Line this year, bringing the number of operational stations to 26 of the planned 29. The Green Line, the next phase of the driverless train project, is scheduled to open next August. Strong transport networks have opened up areas of New Dubai, the western portion of the city, that were once inaccessible.

"With only one Metro line there is already quite good access, as many communities are located along Sheikh Zayed Road," said Jesse Downs, the director of research at the property consultancy Landmark Advisory. "However, in the next five to 10 years further development of the Metro can help to bolster demand."

Residents recall the massive tailbacks on the arterial Sheikh Zayed Road before the RTA enforced the Salik toll charges in 2007 and opened the Metro last year. They also spoke of crowding into taxis and haggling with drivers four years ago, before regulations made the Dubai Taxi Corp, an RTA subsidiary.

"I feel stronger because I have other options," said Jo Mattanan, a Filipino hotel employee who has worked in Dubai for more than two decades. "Taxis must go by meter and I can complain if they are rude."

To mark RTA's five-year anniversary today, all Nol card holders can travel free on public buses, the Metro and water buses.