Plans to expand Dubai's water taxi service to neighbouring emirates

The Roads and Transport authority also intends to introduce new abras as part of the marine transport network.

DUBAI - JULY 22.2010 - Dubai Water Taxi is park in front of high rise bulidings at Dubai Marina Water Taxi Station.( Paulo Vecina/The National )
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DUBAI // Residents and tourists could be zipping to nearby emirates in air-conditioned water taxis or chugging along Dubai's lakes and canals in battery-powered abras as part of the emirate's plan to develop its marine transport system. Water taxis to Sharjah and Ajman are likely to be rolled out late next year once the service catches on in Dubai, said Khalid al Zahed, the director of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) marine projects department. Wood-panelled heritage-style abras may begin operation in Dubai's Marina and downtown Burj areas by the end of this year, he added.

"Right now we are doing full assessment work," he said. "We have just started the water taxis so we must test it fully. Once we have a successful story and cover maximum Dubai areas, we can move to our neighbours." There are plans to station at least two water taxis in Sharjah once service to the emirate begins to cut waiting time. The RTA has not yet worked out the fares that would be charged between emirates.

"It's a good idea. People enjoy travelling by water," said Ali Alvloushis, the head of Majellaan Marine, a Sharjah-based charter service. The authorities "must keep in mind the waves and currents, so the location of the stations will be important", he said. "Where the stations are located will determine its success." The sleek vessels, which cost Dh6 million each, have already made about 200 trips to 19 destinations linking Dubai's high-end hotels to tourist spots since their launch two weeks ago. A station will be added soon at Dubai Marina Mall.

"The numbers are very promising. We were expecting 100 trips so we have double of what we expected and we have still not launched our [advertising] campaign," Mr al Zahed said. The RTA will run a promotion with the title "All aboard for stress-free travel" over the next week. Advertisements will appear on double-decker buses, on taxis, in newspapers and on the radio. More than 60 per cent of the water taxi traffic so far has come from tourists hopping between hotels in north Dubai and the downtown souks, RTA figures show.

"It's definitely a new way for moving around for tourists and it's a fun way to discover Dubai," said Fabrice Ducry, the general manager of the Sofitel Hotel. "It will be a good impact for tourism." Other reaction to the water taxi has been mixed, with residents terming it expensive and tourists backing it as a worthwhile experience if shared with friends. In response to resident complaints, the RTA has made changes in its booking system to enable vessel captains to accept spot fares just like a regular taxi.

The minimum fare for a water taxi is Dh50 for a ride across Creek Park. The fare can touch Dh570 for journeys from Dubai Festival City to the Jebel Ali Hotel and Spa. Those costs compare with boat cruises run by private operators who charge upwards of Dh200 per person for a two-hour ride and private charters that can cost as much as Dh3,000 per hour. "It would be popular with tourists and I would certainly use it myself," said Scott Chambers, a Brazilian expatriate and the head of Surf Dubai. "Exploring the coastline will be a really good idea. Whichever way they do it they must also be environmentally aware about preserving Dubai's beautiful beaches."

The more traditional abras plying across Dubai Creek, which seat 20 people, cost Dh1 per person while air-conditioned water buses seating 36 passengers cost Dh2. Abras ferry about 50,000 commuters and water buses another 1,500 daily in downtown Dubai. The RTA plans to start an abra service in the Dubai Marina and downtown Burj Khalifa areas. Unlike the traditional wooden abras, the new, more compact versions with a fibreglass body will carry six to eight passengers. The cost of the new vessels was not immediately available. While the old abras weigh about 10 tonnes, the new canvas-canopy boats will weigh about one tonne. Unlike the diesel boats operating in the creek, the new abras will be powered by electricity.

Fares for the new abras will cover the entire vessel and will not be billed per passenger, Mr al Zahed said. He declined to disclose the fee. A prototype was used from November to December last year in the Global Village canal, offering a 20-minute ride for Dh50.