I have been visiting Dubai these past few days and the single biggest change I have seen since I left a few years ago, is the impact that the Metro has made in the city. It had its detractors when it was first proposed, myself included, but I would have no hesitation in eating humble pie and declare that I absolutely love using the Metro. It is safe, reliable, economical and quite easy to use. While it may have done a lot to reduce traffic congestion, I believe its biggest contribution would be the reduction of pollution. They have dared to prove everyone wrong by their innovation in getting people to make the walk to the nearest station.
There are still hurdles to overcome. While the distances between stations are less, in the blistering heat of Dubai summers it is more critical to have stations closer so that people walk less to reach their nearest station. But this makes travel slow especially during rush hours and one way to overcome this would be to introduce express trains with limited key stops (and possibly higher fares) so more people are encouraged to use these faster and more comfortable trains. These express trains may use existing relief tracks, if any, or new tracks in a single direction, say from residences to office areas in the mornings and afternoons and back from offices to residential areas in the afternoon and evenings. The train cars also lack a central horizontal bar that should run the length of the train so that people may hold on and move down to the center of the cars and not crowd around the poles at the doorways. The Metro should also get staff to direct people to enter the trains only after people have gotten off, to make for a more orderly transfer.
No Metro can be successful unless the feeder services from the stations are effective. This is more important in Dubai where the hot weather makes it important that more point to point services are available especially at stations closer to work. While it has been a treat to use the new buses on the streets, it would have been more useful if the transit authorities would consider installing systems that displayed and announced bus stops, similar to that used in the Metro. I am not sure of the purpose of the screens they have now; it makes more sense if these showed the current bus route.
Perhaps the biggest impact to reducing traffic would be if the authorities would remove paid parking in residential areas or at least consider allowing residents of a particular neighborhood to park for free or a nominal charge closer to their homes especially where buildings do not provide for at least one parking for each unit. Given the choice of paid parking and then paying to use transit or driving to work and paying for gas and toll, I am sure that most people would simply opt for the convenience of driving to work, thus adding to more traffic woes. With free residential parking, most of these drivers would surely park their vehicles at home and let someone else take on the chore of driving them to work.
Each morning as I do my daily walks around Zabeel Park (another amazing recent addition to the landscapes), I look at the hazy view of the skyscrapers of Dubai’s skyline in the new downtown. This screen of pollution smog just goes to show how much more needs to be done to reduce pollution in the country. The authorities should encourage buildings and villas to install solar panels by providing strong subsidies so as to promote green energy. They could also consider providing rebates to customers for buying more energy efficient appliances and vehicles.
The World Energy Forum just concluded in Dubai. It is hard to see UAE being considered as a serious player in the Green movement when it continues to ignore that most important of green initiatives – recycling of the huge amounts of garbage that is generated today. It is indeed surprising that while the world over, countries have begun to sort garbage separately into paper, glass, plastic and organic; UAE and the Middle East continues to ignore the gifts of recycling. While paper, glass and plastic can be recycled for reuse; organic wastes may be used to produce compost to feed the ever increasing green cover in the country. All of this would also reduce the costs of maintaining landfills and incinerators, which are only harmful to the environment. It is only when we begin to take care of our own backyards do others see us as a valuable cog in the green movement.