By Hugh Naylor www.thenational.ae
DUBAI // Vague rules and regulations are being liberally interpreted by officials who have begun issuing fines as they monitor the Dubai Metro, passengers have said.
Metro staff are fining commuters for such things as running, even though the alleged infractions are not listed as being against the rules. One inspector was seen approaching a teenage girl and asking her to open her mouth to determine whether she was chewing gum. Eating and drinking are prohibited on the system.
The rate of fines issued has risen dramatically over the past three months compared with the previous six. Of the 3,663 citations issued since last September, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) confirmed that 2,248 of them, almost two-thirds of the total, were handed out between March and May.
“I don’t think chewing gum is a big deal,” said Mohammed Khan, a 26-year-old Indian banker who received two verbal warnings from Metro security about his habit. “I heard from a friend that it’s Dh400 if you’re actually fined.”
Part of the confusion, he and others have said, is the ambiguous list of infractions, 29 of which are listed in pamphlets available at Metro stations and posted on signboards. One includes a penalty of Dh2,000 for “operating or using any facility or device related to security or safety, including emergency exits if not required”.
Another includes a Dh200 penalty for “failing to comply with the instructions of the RTA’s inspectors or authorised personnel”. A passenger could also receive a Dh100 penalty for “causing inconvenience, discomfort or distress to other passengers in any way whatsoever”.
Although chewing gum is not explicitly listed as being a violation, Adnan al Hammadi, the head of the RTA rail agency, confirmed that it is considered to be eating and is part of law number 29 of the violation and fines laws that are clearly displayed in all stations. He also said that running would be considered illegal if it endangered public safety and other passengers.
Some offences seemed disproportional. The penalty for bringing weapons on to a train (Dh200) is lower than the fine for sleeping in waiting areas (Dh300) or incorrectly parking at park-and-ride stations (Dh250). For some passengers, the rigidity of rules, rather than their lack of clarity, is the primary issue.
“Isn’t it normal that on the way to work you stop at a cafe, grab a coffee and then you go to work on the Metro and drink it?” said Sandra Gonzales, 34, from Barcelona, Spain, who used the system for the first time yesterday.
That coffee shops and convenience stores were located in some Dubai Metro stops acted as a sort of tease, she and others said.
In some instances, passengers said they were forced to either pay fines immediately or have their proof of ID confiscated.
A 27-year-old Indian man was fined Dh200 last month for running to catch a train at the Union Station stop. “The inspector stopped me,” he said. “He told me, ‘Running is not allowed. Give me your labour card’. Then he told me that I either had to pay immediately or I had to give him my labour card and pay later.”
The man paid the amount with his credit card rather than relinquishing his labour card, he said. After contacting the RTA customer service centre about the fine, he was told that running was not an infraction.
“I met the man who fined me again and told him that it wasn’t a fine,” he said. “But he just told me, ‘I didn’t give you a fine for running. It was for not listening to me’.
He tried taking the matter up with the RTA again, but was told that if personnel “say it’s a rule, then there’s really nothing that can be done”.
“Now, even when I see other people running from the Metro, I always make it a point to walk,” he said. “I may miss my train, but I walk.”
Mr. Al Hammadi said there was a special committee to handle disputed fines, although he did not provide any details.