For many Dubai residents, it will be an exciting new way of getting around the city, but, according to a Dubai-based psychiatrist, the Metro, opening on September 9, 2009, will also be an opportunity to reduce stress and improve the quality of life of thousands of commuters.
The Dh15.5 billion driverless railway, which will cater to an average of 1.2 million passengers a day and deliver around 17 per cent of the public transport needs of the emirate, is on target for its September Red Line opening, which will see up to 40 trains every hour moving along 52 km of track. The journey along Sheikh Zayed Road from Al Rashidiya to Jebel Ali will stop at 29 stations – including Burj Dubai and Dubai International Airport. The Green Line is expected to open in March 2010, when 18 more stations will serve an additional 22.5 km of track.
Dr Arne Brosig of German Center for Neurology and Psychiatry (GNP) in Dubai Healthcare City explains how the various benefits associated with Metro commuting as an alternative to using the car will be a boost to individuals and the city’s productivity. He says: “Many studies have shown a significant relationship between reduced stress and better professional performance. For instance, the US Transportation Research Board carried out a field study when a New York commuter rail line was improved and found increased work productivity and reduced commuter stress. Commuters who switched to the new train service also experienced a reduced level of job strain after the implementation of the line.
“When driving the car during rush hour, commuters need to be continuously mindful of traffic rules, speed limits, traffic lights, jams, other drivers, accidents on the road, pressure of delays, being late for appointments and aggression of other drivers. The list is endless and all contribute to stress levels. Of course, there will also be other stress factors encountered on the way to and from the Metro station, but overall it is likely to result in a sizeable reduction in daily stress levels for thousands every day.”
Dr Brosig continues: “Stress has a close relationship with work productivity. The higher the stress level when you start your working day, the smaller is the coping ability for the rest of the day. For instance, if you damage your car on the way to work, then you are unlikely to be as productive throughout the working day as you would have been arriving fully relaxed. This is not restricted to work productivity, but all other aspects of life and health can be influenced by stress. There is a certain amount of stress which is good and actually helps to improve performance. We call this “Eustress”. However, after a certain point, when stress becomes too much it will reduce a person’s productivity. This is called “Distress”. However, it is impossible to predict individually which amount of stress is too much for someone, because the same stress factor, such as a traffic jam, can be dealt with totally different by two different people, depending upon the overall stress level of the individual and the coping mechanisms this person uses to deal with stressful situations.”
And, according to Brosig, there will be other interesting points to look at once the Metro is running. He says: “Apart from the stress factor which will be influenced positively, the Metro will most likely be a meeting point of different social groups and this will be very interesting. Of course there will be some limitations to interaction due to the different classes (Gold, Silver, Ladies and Family) and it could be a challenge to attract very wealthy people to share even the same transport mode with manual labourers or even lower level employees. In this part of the world, many businessmen have their own private drivers, and they seem the least likely group to convert to Metro travelling.
“If you take into consideration the number of Dubai residents who complain about the city’s traffic situation, then it is plain to see that demand for an alternative transport system is definitely there. The key to changing people’s unwillingness to give up their cars for the commute will largely depend upon the ease of access to the Metro and how a number of questions are answered: How easy will it be to reach the Metro station and depart from it? How will you reach your final destination once you reach the desired Metro station? How comfortable and how crowded will the Metro journey be? Are the correct routes connected by the Metro? But as far as we hear through the media, the RTA takes all these points into consideration and provides for example free multi-storey car parks for the Metro users.”
The RTA is working hard to ensure first time users are not disappointed and turned off after the first journey by making the Metro easy to use, with unified prepaid cards that can also be used on buses and water taxis. By the time the Red Line opens, 33 bus routes are scheduled to feed its 29 stations, with a maximum targeted waiting time of 10 minutes for each bus.
Dr Brosig adds: “Everybody in Dubai is very curious about the Metro at the moment, so first impressions will last and if people enjoy the experience and discover that the Metro indeed connects the important routes for them, then they will be much more likely to take advantage of it in the future. However, for those who get the car out of the garage in order to enjoy a ride in their luxury car with side benefits, such as perceived respect or a symbol of wealth, then I believe the Metro will struggle to compete.”
A study by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends a basic daily fitness regime of walking 10,000 steps, discovered that train commuters walked an average of 30 per cent more steps every working day than car drivers. It also found more than 40 per cent walked at least 10,000 steps a day, compared with just over 14 per cent of car commuters.
Dr Brosig added: “The idea of walking and getting fitter as a draw for people to use the Metro would be very nice, but I don’t think people will necessarily use the Metro for this reason. Perhaps if the number of covered footways linking Dubai to the Metro increases in the future, especially in the summer, then people will consider using this as a means of exercise.
“Although the free Wi-Fi access on the train could be a temptation to pack some more work into the day, we at the German Center for Neurology and Psychiatry, being of course concerned with the mental health of people, would recommend Metro commuters to instead have an interesting conversation with their neighbour, read some articles or listen to relaxing music,” Brosig adds.
© 2009 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)