Two-wheeled guardians clean up the Corniche

Two cousins have been patrolling RAK's Qawassim Corniche on Segways, odd-looking two-wheeled vehicles, and the public say their presence has made the place more inviting.

Ras al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates ---  January 11, 2011  ---  Abdul Rasul al Belooshi and Omar al Belooshi, cousins, patrol the corniche in RAK on segways.    ( DELORES JOHNSON / The National )
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RAS AL KHAIMAH // With white lights flashing, two cousins zip down the Qawassim Corniche on this emirate's newest environmental initiative: Segway patrols.

Omar and Abdul Rasul al Belooshi, both 25, work for the Department of Public Works and consider themselves the guardians of the Corniche. They buzz down the thoroughfare each night on the two-wheeled electric vehicles to educate families about caring for RAK's most popular public park, using Arabic, English and Urdu. Their Segways help them to attract attention.

"When small children see us travelling on two tyres they think we are Martians," said Abdul Rasul. "They are touching the bikes and asking 'did this come from space?'"

Initially eyed with suspicion for telling people to pack up their shisha pipes and bin their litter, the duo are now riding a wave of popularity and being credited as the heroes of the city's clean-up campaign.

"It's a fun job, and every day we see many people and talk to them to make this area clean," Omar aid. "The first time they were angry, but we will do anything to stop this.

"People would see me and say 'oh no', but when we started to make this area clean they were happy. Before, people didn't care and nobody was here to talk with them."

The patrols represent a new municipality strategy to cope with an anticipated increase in visitors. The initiative was sorely needed, as the Corniche gardens were covered with rubbish until a few weeks ago and recycling bins were ignored because people did not know how to use them.

That has changed thanks to the Segway-savvy cousins, because their vehicles have allowed them to reach the public in a way they could not with patrol cars. The pair also provide an extra pair of eyes for parents, negotiate peace between scuffling teenagers and rein in wild football games. When challenged to races by young boys riding quad bikes, they talk to the youngsters about road safety.

The cousins cruise side by side on slow nights at about 10kph amid admiring glances from pedestrians. They wear their uniforms and caps with pride, and add heavy mittens in the winter. The patrols began last month when four Segways arrived from the US after a special order by the head of the municipality.

The cousins, born four weeks apart, played on the Corniche as boys before Omar moved to the neighbouring emirate of Umm al Qaiwain. Their job means many accidental reunions with old friends and teachers who exercise on the Corniche.

"Yes, we are celebrities now," said Abdul Rasul. "When I go to Manar Mall people see me and say, 'this is the Corniche police' because every day people see me."

The job comes with awkward moments, such as when they must tell friends to pack up their BBQs or face a fine. They try to treat everyone equally, and their decrees can pack a stiff financial jolt if unheeded: offenders face fines of Dh500 to Dh5,000.

"It happens sometimes, but we say rules are for all," Omar said. "We want this area to stay healthy for others, and when we talk to one person this person goes to his friends and he talks to his friends."

The cousins work seven days a week from 7pm until the last visitors leave the park. Though their shifts can last until morning prayer call, their commitment has won them fans.

Ameera Ahmed, 23, an Emirati dentistry graduate from Ajman University who visits the Corniche weekly, said: "What can I say? There is a 100 per cent difference. Maybe it is because they are here in the street, or maybe because of their rules."

The patrols may be rolled out in the Kuwaiti Street market and the old RAK Corniche if the positive response continues. The first restaurants and shops in the Corniche's wind tower-inspired buildings opened this week, and a museum is expected to follow soon.

Mohammed Hassan, the head of inspection for the RAK Department of Public Works, said: "Before we tried Segways we had posters with warnings, and people didn't accept it. From the beginning, all the people were wondering what it was. Now they see it's a good idea and they want more all over RAK."