Six months on, 'Metro changed our lives'

Even with only 11 of 29 stations open the Dubai rail system is changing travel habits, and Green Line is scheduled for August 2011.

Dubai - September 27, 2009 - Commuters on the Dubai Metro on their way toward the Diera City Center station in Dubai September 27, 2009.  (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National)  *** Local Caption ***  JT008-0927-METRO_MG_2850.jpg
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DUBAI // Six months to the day since the first passengers used the Dubai Metro, commuters say it has changed their lives as well as saved them money. While many have remained loyal to their cars since 09/09/09, when 10 of the 29 stations on the Red Line opened, others are relieved to have an alternative to the emirate's busy roads.

Jahangar Isaev, from Uzbekistan, who lives near BurJuman Centre in Bur Dubai and works as a customer representative at Dubai Mall, next to Burj Khalifa, said: "I used to spend between Dh400 and Dh500 a month before the Metro opened "Before the Metro it could have taken up to two hours to get to work. If I was late or was in a rush I had no other option but to get a taxi and spend Dh20 to Dh30.

"A bus would just take too long and would be stuck in traffic the whole way. The Metro has changed my life and now I have a lot more time to myself. I know I will be at my job in 25 minutes." Figures provided by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) show that 10 million passengers used the Metro within its first five months of operation. Safat Sherif, 20, a student at the Canadian University of Dubai, said he no longer felt pressure to apply for his driving licence.

"I know I don't have to sit in traffic now on a bus that could take up to two hours to travel from Sharjah to the campus," Mr Sherif said. He still takes a bus from Sharjah to Rashidiya station, but the length of his commute has been cut in half. And what formerly was a Dh7 trip now costs him only Dh4.50. Not everyone is convinced of the Metro's advantages, however. Ricardo Recco, 28, from Brazil, said he had never boarded the Metro. "I drive to work and had never had a need to use it," he said.

That could change when the airport stations open. "I work at the airport, so if Terminal 1 station opens, I might use it," he said. Eleven Metro stations are in use. Seven of the remaining 18 incomplete stations will open on April 25, the RTA said last month. By then, construction will be complete on all 29 stations on the Red Line. However, of the near-finished stations, only Emirates, Airport Terminal 1, GGICO, Al Karama, World Trade Centre, Marina and Ibn Battuta will be ready for passengers.

Ramadan Abdulla Mohammed, the director of rail operations at the RTA, said the number of passengers is likely to rise with the opening of "key stations" such as Airport Terminal 1. Officials expect 35 million passengers to have used the system by the end of this year. The completion of the Metro's second line, the Green, has been pushed back to August next year.

The Metro's impact has been felt by businesses as well as residents. Fuad Sharaf, the vice president at Mall of the Emirates, said: "There is a definite increase in the number of visitors since the Metro opened, particularly as our station is the busiest stop on the Red Line. Being close to the Metro certainly offers convenience to our shoppers and an inexpensive way to visit us." Tourists are also riding the rails, not as an attraction but as a means to get around the city, Mr Mohammed said. Marcus Stephenson, associate professor of tourism management at Middlesex University Dubai, said the business-tourism industry "will perhaps welcome the Metro, allowing business travellers and delegates ease of mobility to the many hotels and conference venues" that are near stations.

The cost of the Red and Green lines will have risen from Dh15.5 billion (US$4.2bn) to an estimated Dh28bn by the time the two tracks are complete next year. * The National, with additional reporting by Leah Oatway