It’s rush hour – but you’ll get a seat


By Eugene Harnan

DUBAI // While it does not yet match the frantic pace of the London Tube or New York Subway, a morning rush-hour commute appears to be developing on the Dubai Metro.

Christopher Gintner, an architect, at work on his laptop aboard the Dubai Metro as he travels to his office in Deira. Stephen Lock / The National
Christopher Gintner, an architect, at work on his laptop aboard the Dubai Metro as he travels to his office in Deira. Stephen Lock / The National

From 6am, men and women in suits can be seen on station platforms along the Red Line, laptops and newspapers tucked under their arms, ready to board the first trains of the day. Carriages are often filled with commuters listening to iPods, working on laptops, reading books or just taking in the view. By 8am, there is often standing room only.

“It’s just like home but at least I have more chance of getting a seat,” said David Sherry, 28, from London. “I can read my book and check my mails on the BlackBerry.”

A veteran of the London Underground, Mr Sherry has been able to recapture some of his past commuting habits.

“Before the Metro opened,” he said, “I was stressed out when I drove down Sheikh Zayed Road. Sometimes it’s hell, but here on the train I find a seat, plug in my iPod and read. I don’t have to circle the office for 20 minutes looking for parking, either. Once I get off at the station, I buy a coffee and get to my desk fully relaxed.”

Lawrence Durren, a 28-year-old engineer from Australia, said he used commuting time to check e-mails and read papers online.

“I used to do that in the office and spend half an hour doing so,” he said. “Now I pay Dh20 for three hours of internet access, so it’s good value.”

In trying to clear congestion on major highways across the city, the RTA is offering not only a ride on the train but also an entire portfolio of feeder services, including taxis and buses.

It has boasted that every resident eventually will be within 500 metres of a bus that feeds a Metro station.

To date, however, only 10 of the 29 stations are open, and only 25 of the eventual 41 feeder routes operational. By next April, 518 buses are scheduled to be operating on feeder routes.

Transport chiefs hope to increase the number of public transport users from six per cent to 20 per cent by 2020 by targeting people such as Mohammad Saadawi, a Lebanese sales assistant in the Burjuman shopping centre.

“I have to walk across a dusty patch of sand to get a bus stop,” Mr Saadawi, 27, said while looking down at his sandy shoes. “I used to take two buses to get to work, but now a bus and the Metro gets me to the shop.”

Or like Ahmed Rivzi, 36, a sales executive from Lebanon who lived in the UK for three years.

“It is just like London,” Mr Rivizi said. “So many different nationalities all riding the same train. It is interesting to the watch people who get on. Some look like they’ve been doing it for years, while others look like it’s their first time on a Metro. Maybe it is.”

Jonathan Wilbur, 31, is one Dubai resident for whom there is little novelty.

“I grew up in New York,” said the finance industry professional, “so it’s a part of life to get to work by the Metro. Driving was such a pain here.”

After just 16 days of operation, the Dubai Metro has carried more than one million passengers. During the first two working days after Eid, nearly 5,000 people used the Metro between 6am and 9am.

On September 23, 4,788 people took the Metro during the morning rush hour, with nearly 600 embarking at Al Rashidya station, which has parking for nearly 3,000 cars to accommodate commuters from Sharjah. At the opposite end of the 41km Red Line, 331 commuters used Nakheel Harbour and Tower Station on that day. Union station was the busiest, with 1,046 passengers, and Financial Centre the quietest, with 181.

“I saw the queues at the weekend in Mall of the Emirates, but it is nothing like that in the mornings,” said Noura Salaman, an events manager from Lebanon. “I park my car at Nakheel Harbour and Tower Station and take it three stops to Financial Centre.”