My colleagues mock me, I get stared at, am frequently the subject of whispered conversations and the object of strange looks. Why? Well, the ginger hair and big nose don’t help, obviously, but this unwanted attention has more to do with me using the bus to get to work – which, it seems, makes me strange.
Strange, that is, if you’re a member of Dubai’s cosseted, well-paid European community, as I am (in case you hadn’t worked that out from the ginger hair). But we’re the lucky few – who can afford to drive to work or catch a taxi. The majority of this city’s inhabitants haven’t got the cash for these luxuries and rely on Dubai’s public transport system.
And this is where the weirdness, in my case, starts. Bus drivers are shocked when I get on. And taxi drivers, who see me waiting at the bus stop, pull over because they assume I couldn’t possibly be getting in a bus. Occasionally, a fellow bus passenger will sidle over and ask what on Earth I think I’m doing. There shouldn’t be anything odd about my use of the buses. In comparison with car rental (Dhs2,000 a month) or getting a taxi to work (Dhs800 a month) the bus is the clear winner. It costs just Dhs80 a month for me to travel from my home in the Satwa area to my workplace in Garhoud and back.
But there are drawbacks: my journey starts at 7am, where I queue with up to 100 other people, to get on a rickety old coach. While the queues are orderly and good natured, there’s precious little shade at Satwa bus station and the temperature is already in the 40s. The buses can be frequent, but often arrive in threes and fours – so you might have a short, or very long, wait. And, while the RTA may present pictures of sparkling new double deckers in its publicity, many buses are much older with torn up seats and less than brilliant air-conditioning. Still, I’m happy to join the queue each morning, because the service more or less works and I like buses (yeah I’m not just ginger, but a geek, too) and believe that public transport provides the arteries of a modern city, allowing people (its lifeblood) the most effective, cheapest way of moving around – bringing vitality, colour and commerce wherever they choose to go.
We know the RTA shares my belief – that’s why it has invested millions in a metro and new bus services. But even this won’t ensure brilliant public transport. For that to happen ordinary folk have to start pointing out where things could be better – new seat covers, functioning AC and making sure three buses don’t set off at once, for example. That’s why I’m proposing a new organisation – The Dubai Bus Users’ Group, D-Bug for short, which would take the RTA to task when it doesn’t get it right (in a nice way, obviously). I’d like anyone who travels or wants to travel on public transport to get involved – to make sure we get the service we deserve.
If you’d like to get involved in D-Bug then email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m hoping to get a website together soon and need help!
Andrew Brightwell is Time Out GCC’s chief sub editor