‘We need maps,” is how one Sharjah resident summed up her emirate’s transport problems in an online post. “Frequency of buses must be increased,” were the thoughts of another. And this: “The only thing stopping people from using public transport is the lack of it.”
There is no shortage of opinion about how to improve the quality of public transportation in the Emirates. Over the years, many suggestions have been taken to heart: the comments above date to 2009. Today, maps of Sharjah’s transportation hub are readily available on the Web, while more buses ply more roads than ever before.
Yet for all the progress in increasing options for the country’s commuters and visitors, much work remains to be done to encourage drivers out of their cars, and into the myriad of mass transit options. In a country of varying wealth, diversity of modes is key.
This disparity is on clear display in the northern emirates. As The National reported yesterday, officials in Sharjah are targeting illegal taxis that are undercutting fares charged by licensed cabs. While illegal taxis should be taken off the streets, it’s critical to understand why these taxis are able to lure passengers in the first place: for some, it’s their only option.
Travel in between emirates is an area that requires special attention. On a recent Friday, men cueing for a seat on the Dubai-Abu Dhabi bus route illustrated the point. Thousands of workers waited up to three hours to board a coach, a delay that turned the relatively easy 120 km trip into a five hour journey.
Projects like the Dubai Metro have gone a long way to address a shortage of long-distance transportation. Dubai Marina now feels much closer to Dubai airport. The project has linked disparate parts of a sprawling emirate. What’s needed now are efforts that do the same for the country as well. Extending rail service south to Abu Dhabi has been discussed; now these plans must be turned into action. The same could be said for a national railway system and bus routes that link the emirates more effectively, long under consideration but not yet implemented.
Travellers will always choose the path of least resistance. As long as cars remain more convenient, the commuting public will spurn mass transit. Only faster and cheaper options, including modes of transport that connect the Emirates within a federal transportation grid, will mark the end of the road for transport development.