Dubai Metro is currently dividing our office in two. Not literally – a track has not been laid through the middle of our desks. Rather, there seems to be two very different opinions about the trains’ upcoming arrival being voiced around the water cooler. On the one side, there are the closet trainspotters. Even if railways weren’t their thing before, they’re not ashamed to admit that their first glimpse of the shiny blue carriages arriving around town was a special moment. After watching the Metro routes gradually grow up around them in the past couple of years, suddenly gleaming gold cocoon-shaped stations are appearing – and it feels like a real change is set to happen to Dubai.
In the other corner, then, are the self-proclaimed ‘realists’ with all the questions. ‘How will I get to and from the stations?’ They ponder during coffee breaks. ‘Where will I park?’ ‘Will it be expensive?’ ‘Will it be reliable?’
It’s clear which side Mr Abdulmohsin Ibrahim Younes falls on. ‘This project is capable of transforming the behavioral pattern, lifestyle and thoughts of many people in Dubai,’ he states. The RTA’s CEO of Strategy and Corporate Governance, he’s one of the men responsible for planning Dubai’s all-important infrastructure – and he isn’t sitting on the fence. ‘Transport is the life-blood of modern cities,’ he continues. ‘It plays a strategic part of the livelihood of cities’ inhabitants and its visitors.’
You see, Younes never simply refers to the Metro. For him and the RTA, the trains are just one element of their grand master plan. A master plan that’s got Time Out’s trainspotters bouncing off the walls. ‘The ultimate aim of the RTA is to integrate all modes of transport,’ Younes explains. Which is a much bigger deal than it sounds. It means ensuring all the areas not covered by Metro lines will have dedicated bus lanes and frequent buses running to and from their nearest stop (for example, Metro buses in Mirdif will ferry commuters to and from Rashidiya station every five to seven minutes). Either that or they’ll be connected by other means, such as abras or water taxis via marine stations.
It means almost every station will be linked to an air-conditioned pedestrian walkway or bridge, as well as air-conditioned bus shelters, taxi waiting areas and park and ride facilities. Lest we forget, it also includes the Green Line’s estimated completion in March 2010. And, perhaps most excitingly of all – over 1,300km of on-street and off-street bicycle tracks will be built by 2020 (the Red Line is 52km in length, to put that in perspective), with ‘a major part of the bike network to be in place over the next three years’. What’s more, Yousen says that they are ‘considering providing a free public bicycle service in the near future similar to the ones currently in Barcelona and Paris.’ Oh la la.
No one can say the RTA haven’t done their homework. Researchers and experts from around the world have been working on the project since 1990, and Younes picks out London, Paris, Berlin, Hong Kong and Singapore as having particularly successful systems. ‘The public transport integration is being modeled around these cities,’ states Younes. Which means they’ve been looking closely at the mistakes these places have made too. In time, they hope residential and commercial planning will become focused around the stations, making them Dubai’s pedestrianised population hubs.
Are you still sitting with your mouth pursed, along with the Time Out camp of questioners? Still wondering why you’d ever leave the comfort of your car for the supposed ‘slog’ of public transport? ‘Commuters using the new transport can save travel time,’ Yousen says, bringing out what the RTA believe to be their killer argument. Imagine it: zipping past any hint of traffic from a train, perhaps giving the drivers below a little wave.
And so back to the Metro system itself. Once you’ve got to and from it – will it be worth the fare? Or, more immediately – will it even be cost-effective? ‘The fare for the Metro system is under study and will be revealed shortly,’ Yousen states. Hopefully, they’ve taken the negative reaction to The Palm Monorail’s steep Dhs25 return fare into consideration, and will keep prices similar to bus tickets. We do know that a rechargeable smart card will allow payment of fares across the transport system. Talking of fees, he also reveals that rumours of a rise in Salik tolls to Dhs8 are as yet unfounded, but that ‘plans are in place to encourage people to use the Metro and buses’ (we’re hoping for in-carriage movies and neck massages, rather than a hike in petrol prices).
Of course, these incentives will be on top of the fact that using the Dubai Metro means a reduction in the city’s general noise and air pollution, due to the steady decrease in use of private vehicles. The trains’ regularity – every three minutes and 43 seconds on average – is also a draw, as are the new stores and coffee shops that will fill each station. The free Wifi inside trains and on platforms is another inspired feature.
A motivator for some, a turn-off for others – each five-carriage train is separated into two classes. A ‘gold car’ is located at the front of each, followed by four ‘silver cars’. Naturally, gold will be pricier, boasting a more luxurious interior with leather wider seats and a panoramic view through the train’s front window. It even has ‘exclusive lighting design.’ Then, within the silver cabins, there are areas reserved for women and children, as well as priority seats for the elderly and disabled and pregnant women.
Despite the slightly segregated carriage system, it’s still justifiable to suggest that the Metro – and the whole RTA masterplan – will eventually bring us closer. Those who couldn’t afford a car or taxis will be given a new-found freedom. Instead of snarling at each other in traffic jams from expensive or battered cars, we’ll interact on a more level playing field that isn’t all about money.
Finally, the magic question: when will all these wonderful plans come to fruition? By 2020 – that’s the RTA’s judgement year, with plenty to be completed before. But what we do know now is that the Metro marks the start of Dubai transport’s new beginning.
1990 The idea to build the Metro is first suggested
2004 The preliminary design of the Metro is formulated
5am-1.30am The running hours of the Metro
17% Projected daily reduction of vehicle trips on the road once the Dubai Metro commences operation.
643 The number of passengers each Metro train can hold
Becky Kilsby, 52, Career Advisor, British
‘I would definitely use the Metro if it took me very close to my destination – walking in the summer doesn’t appeal! It will be interesting to see whether there will be enough parking for commuters to leave their cars at the beginning of their journey and what happens about taxis or buses once they reach their destination.’
Ritesh Ramakrishnan, 22, Student, Indian
‘The Metro will be a blessing. I hate driving around Dubai, especially with the traffic. The Metro is a convenient way of moving around the city without hassle. I worry, though, whether or not it will be planned and structured properly. Will buses or cabs be available right outside the Metro stops? When will the Metro run until? But I guess we shall all soon find out.’
Arun Bablani, 25, Promotions, Indian
‘The Metro should not only reduce traffic congestion but also be passenger friendly and accessible. I am worried though that the egotistical crowd in Dubai will still not want to use it.’
The cheapest fare on each:
London Underground Dhs22
Berlin Untergrundbahn Dhs8.5
Glasgow Subway Dhs5.7
New York City Subway Dhs5.7
Métro de Paris Dhs5.4
Tokyo Subway Dhs4
Moscow Metro Dhs2
The Wojhati journey planner
Input your starting point and destination into www.wojhati.rta.ae and the site provides details on different Dubai route options, journey times, the mode of transport you should use, traffic problems and fares. You get the whole route mapped out with little animations – even detailing walking routes to bus stops. Eventually you’ll be able to buy tickets and reserve taxis on the site.