Dubai civic chief calls for tough curbs on car ownership

'We should increase parking fees, increase fuel costs, insurance prices,' says Hussain Lootah, director general of Dubai Municipality, adding that the number of cars on Dubai's roads is the city's biggest challenge in the future.

Hussain Lootah, director general of Dubai Municipality, says the number of Dubai’s roads is the city’s biggest challenge in the future. Pawan Singh / The National
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Hamburg // Dubai’s civic chief has called for tough curbs on car ownership as the city’s economic rebound clogs its roads and a booming population and spike in car sales lengthen rush-hour queues.

“Everybody has their luxury life,” said Hussain Lootah, director general of Dubai Municipality. “but the capacity of our roads cannot take all of these cars without ownership laws.”

A salary limit scheme that would restrict car ownership to those earning above a certain monthly income is one of several options that could be considered.

“We should increase parking fees, increase fuel costs, insurance prices,” he said. “It costs Dh30 [in Germany] to park for half an hour — Dh1 per hour in Dubai.”

Mr Lootah dismissed the idea that residents could be encouraged to reduce car use through awareness programmes, or carpooling.

“There are more than 200 nationalities in Dubai,” he said. “I can’t see [education and awareness] having an effect, and soft [regulations] don’t work any more. Even in Europe and America it doesn’t work. Unless you go hard, no one will obey.”

“The number of cars — that’s really the biggest challenge for the city of Dubai in the future,” he said at the Dubai-Hamburg 2014 business forum in Germany. “Green and electric cars are important for Dubai’s future.”

Mr Lootah also encouraged residents to make greater use of public transport as testing of the city’s new tram system got under way last week.

“There are other alternatives — taxis, buses, metros. I will build more metros,” he said. “We will expand the metro, station by station. We have buses, luxury buses — but the people don’t go for it because their cars are very cheap.”

Dubai’s rebounding economy has fuelled congestion as car makers from Toyota to Mercedes report double-digit sales increases while Dubai International Airport welcomed an additional 8.7 million passengers in 2013, up 15 per cent in a year.

While Dubai has increased the number of paid parking spots throughout the city, daily charges are still low compared with many other cities. Parking daily in downtown New York can cost as much as $533 (Dh2,000) a month.

Heavy taxation on petrol in Europe has also encouraged more people to use public transport. In the UK, about 60 per cent of the price of petrol is taxation. More European cities are also introducing congestion charges. Entering central London costs non-residents about Dh60 a day, and drivers in Stockholm face a fee of up to 40 SEK (Dh20). By comparison drivers are charged Dh4 for passing through Dubai’s Salik gates.