Flexible working hours spell end of rush-hour traffic for Dubai and Abu Dhabi

GPS company TomTom says working from home and flexible schooling have led to a reduction in congestion

The Covid-19 outbreak could signal the end of rush-hour gridlock in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, a leading traffic expert said.

Global GPS provider TomTom found flexible working hours, already introduced in Dubai government offices, could mean the days of bumper-to-bumper jams are a thing of the past.

"More flexibility in the work place means we could be seeing the end of the typical rush-hour congestion," said Jonathan Americo, from the Amsterdam-based tech company.

“I expect Abu Dhabi and Dubai to be significantly lower because of a number of factors, including the widespread adoption of more flexible working hours."

Data has shown that the level of traffic in both emirates has reduced significantly compared with this time last year, before the outbreak.

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We could be seeing the end of the typical rush hour congestion

However, an international study found that the opposite is true in other cities around the world that are experiencing higher levels of congestion than last year.

“A lot of cities that have seen a return to pre-quarantine levels of traffic congestion were previously reliant on public transport. A lot of people in those regions are avoiding public transport and are now taking cars to work,” said Mr Americo.

The UAE has traditionally been a car-centric country, even with the rise of more public transport options in the past decade.

Cities such as Berlin, New York, Rome and Milan have seen traffic return to similar pre-Covid levels.

Data provided by TomTom showed the level of rush hour congestion in Dubai at 5.30pm on Wednesday, November 4, was 21 per cent higher than during non-rush hour traffic.

That was a 15 per cent drop from the average rate of traffic in November 2019.

The figure for Abu Dhabi was even lower with a congestion rate of 12 per cent, which was 15 per cent lower than the same week last year.

In contrast, traffic in London was 104 per cent at 5pm on the same date, twice what it would be outside rush hour.

It was also 34 per cent higher than November 2019, as some commuters appeared to shun the British capital's public transport system in favour of cars due to the pandemic.

Mr Americo said the fact that companies allow their employees to work from home throughout the week, or periodically go to the office on certain days, appeared to be the biggest factor behind the change.

In August, government workers in Dubai were told they could choose to start work any time between 6.30am and 8.30am.

The number of people who have left the UAE to return to their own country, since the start of the pandemic, may also have contributed to the reduction in traffic congestion, Mr Americo said.

Last week, the Indian Consulate in Dubai told The National that 650,000 of its citizens had left the UAE since the start of May, although 240,000 had already returned as the economy slowly got back on track.

Saleh Jafar, from road safety campaign group Gulf for Yasa, said congestion may return if flexible working eventually ends.

“A lot of companies have empty offices right now with long-term leases and they will want staff back when the pandemic dies down,” he said.

“There’s no question that traffic levels have been reduced but the economy relies on the likes of Salik [road toll charges] as well so I don’t think we’ll see a massive reduction in the long-term.”

Mr Jafar predicted Dubai’s roads would be busier in the winter as tourists arrive, even if they come in smaller numbers than before the pandemic.

“Dubai is going to continue to attract visitors – especially from countries where there is a lockdown,” he said.

“I can see the level of traffic reducing in the likes of Abu Dhabi but I’m not convinced it’s going to be much less in Dubai in the longer term.

“The level of traffic keeps creeping back up all the time and I think that’s only going to continue.”