Five years of success but sky’s the limit for Dubai Metro

From 60,000 passengers in its first year, Dubai Metro now caters for half a million and the network is only going to expand and become more important to the emirate as Expo 2020 approaches.

The Dubai Metro Red Line will be partially closed every Friday and Saturday from July 28 to October 15. Jeff Topping / The National
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DUBAI // Five years ago today travel was revolutionised in the UAE thanks to the launch of the Dubai Metro – the longest driverless metro in the world.

Thousands of commuters from Dubai and Sharjah who had relied on the erratic public bus services, illegal car lifts or were forced to shell out hundreds of dirhams on taxi rides were relieved that the metro, which hopes to break even in 2017, provided them a cheap alternative.

The 52-kilometre Red Line was opened by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, in September 2009 and began with 10 stations connecting Rashidiya to Jebel Ali. This was followed by the opening of the 23km Green Line in 2011, connecting Al Qusais to Dubai Creek. Five years on, 47 stations, including 10 underground, are operational. For as little as Dh5.80, a commuter can get from one end of the city to the other on a regular ticket, while a gold-class ticket costs Dh11.60. A daily ticket with unlimited travel is Dh14 and a 30-day pass is Dh270, all of which are considerably lower in price than hiring cabs or risking fines using illegal taxis.

The Roads and Transport Authority said the number of passengers daily has jumped by nearly 10 times – from 60,000 passengers in 2009 to about 500,000 this year.

The total number of passengers has touched nearly half a billion in the past five years.

The aim is for the metro to account for 30 per cent of all journeys made in Dubai by 2030. Last year, the network accounted for 13 per cent.

The number of passengers has also had an impact on the bus network, as feeder buses carry commuters from neighbourhoods to the nearest station. Bus routes that previously lacked passengers have seen a surge in commuters, although residents have called for better connectivity, especially between emirates.

Meanwhile, the metro has also driven up prices of nearby offices and homes.

Real estate analysts see at least a “10 to 20 per cent” rental increase on retail and housing units near metro stations.

“This has happened in the past two to three years,” said Craig Plumb, head of research for Middle East & North Africa at Jones Lang LaSalle.

“Clients prefer to choose rentals close to metro stations and this trend is likely to increase.”

However, he added that it would be tough to quantify the exact impact of the metro on the real estate market.

Mattar Al Tayer, chairman of the board and executive director of the RTA, said: “We believe a key achievement has been the development of a transit-orientated culture in Dubai.

“Dubai Metro has contributed effectively in changing the community perception about public transport so that it does become a mode of choice and it has helped introducing the public transit culture among all segments of Dubai society.”

He said one can only imagine what the roads would be like if the metro, which was the brainchild of Sheikh Mohammed, did not exist, adding that 80 per cent of metro users did not own a car.

The RTA said expansion to the Red Line and a massive upgrade to its road and rail network ahead of Expo 2020 was on the top of its agenda.

“We have a comprehensive rail network masterplan to meet the future urban and economic growth of Dubai. Within the coming few years, the RTA will be focusing on the planning and provision of the road and rail infrastructure required to serve Expo 2020,” said Mr Al Tayer.

“We are finalising a comprehensive transportation masterplan for this purpose. The Red Line expansion to the Expo 2020 site is one of the top priorities and is due to be operational ahead of the Expo 2020.”

There are also plans for six metro stations to be filled with public art, diversifying their use.

Despite the success of the metro in its first five years, the RTA said that it will still take three more years to break even. “We have put in place a plan that we strongly believe will see the metro break even and cover its operational and maintenance costs by end of year 2017. This is our target and we are tracking it closely,” said Mr Al Tayer.

He did not, however, reveal revenue figures but said the network generated income largely from ticket fares, despite several other revenue streams.

“We have other commercial revenue that comes from selling the naming rights of the metro stations, advertising inside and outside stations, rental of shops and spaces within the metro stations and our car parks at Etisalat, Al Rashidiya and Nakheel Harbour and Tower stations,” he said.