By Jasim Ali, Special to Gulf News www.gulfnews.com
The inauguration of the Dubai Metro on September 9 marks a special date for Dubai, the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf Cooperation Council at large. The project is the first of its kind within the six-nation GCC.
True, the project’s cost has increased sharply from its original inception, but higher spending could not be timelier. Dubai Metro’s original cost was estimated at $4.2 billion (Dh15.4 billion), with actual cost rising to at least $7.6 billion, up by some 80 per cent.
Stronger spending partly reflects enlarging the scope of the project by adding more stations and facilities like pedestrian bridges. Full cost and details could emerge after all 47 stations run normal operations in 2010.
Rising cost of the project required the authorities to pump in additional liquidity in the local economy, in turn meeting the prescription of coping with the global financial crisis.
The crisis that started in the US in the second half of 2008 has caused a drop in confidence and the solution required steady spending. Thus, extra spending by the government served the purpose of putting the local economy on the right path. Also, firmer spending by the public sector entices investments from the private sector, as many investors prefer seeing the government taking the lead.
To be sure, the very operation of Dubai Metro meets a key objective of the Dubai Strategic Plan (DSP) covering the period from 2007 to 2015. The plan is divided into five sections, namely: economic development, social development, infrastructure, land and environment; safety, security and justice, and public sector excellence.
With respect to economic development, the plan calls for focusing energy on sectors in which Dubai enjoys a competitive advantage. These sectors are tourism, transport, trade, construction and financial services.
Accordingly, the focus is on the non-oil sector in shaping Dubai’s economy. Already, the services sector accounts for three quarters of Dubai’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Among others, the DSP calls for registering some 11 per cent annual growth in Dubai’s GDP. Certainly, GDP growth requires spending in the local economy with the public sector playing its fair share. In economic terms, DSP aims at increasing Dubai’s GDP from $37 billion in 2005 to $108 billion by 2015. In fact, the sky is the limit with regards to possible contributions of Dubai Metro to the local economy. The project provides an opportunity to entice major international events such as the Olympics. Also, the project should add fresh impetus to already popular events such as Dubai Shopping Festival. Other advantages of Dubai Metro include drop in the number of cars using the streets.
Yet, it remains to be seen whether the taxi business, as well as other means of public transport, will soon face rivalry with the trains. But taxi firms and drivers need to seize the new opportunity to expand their business operations by coming up with some creative ideas like arranging with some rider for drop off and pick up.
Other GCC countries need to seriously consider setting up similar projects in major cities.
To be sure, Saudi officials are devising plans for train infrastructure in the holy city of Makkah, as part of efforts to deal with crowd management. Also, Qatar and Bahrain have revised original plans of a causeway connection between the two countries to include train facility running between the two countries.
At one point, Kuwait explored the option of developing a metro infrastructure but the idea was shelved following eruption of the global financial market.
Clearly, the Dubai Metro project gives UAE officials a cause for celebration.
The writer is a Member of Parliament in Bahrain.