By Gautam Bellur www.business24-7.ae
Tomorrow marks the launch of the Dubai Metro – a critical project that signals Dubai’s arrival in the league of big cities and that will underpin the city’s future economic development.
Remarkably the project has gone ahead – in record time – despite a rapidly changing economic environment. With careful management, the Metro can be expected to deliver a range of economic, social and environmental benefits to Dubai’s residents.
Numerous studies have sought to quantify the direct economic impact of investment in public transportation. While the magnitude of measured returns varies widely, there is little doubt that such investment significantly enhances development opportunities.
Beyond obvious productivity gains from reducing traffic congestion and travel times, the Metro will also enhance economic opportunities for the private sector. Service businesses large and small, such as malls and restaurants, located close to the Metro, will likely see an uptick in footfall from new walk-in customers. And the Metro will create a more attractive environment for tourism, one of Dubai’s largest sectors.
The Metro will also generate economic benefits in the form of significant savings for residents and the city as a whole, through reduced vehicle ownership and operating costs, and avoided investments in road and parking infrastructure.
In addition, reduced commute times, increased travel safety, and reduced driving-related stress are likely to have a meaningful and positive impact on the overall quality of life for Dubai’s residents. Parts of the city previously avoided by residents of other areas due to traffic congestion, distance or cost of travel will now become more easily accessible to new visitors and consumers. In short, the Metro and the rest of Dubai’s public transportation system provides opportunity, access and choice, all of which yield significant social benefits, and impart even greater vibrancy to Dubai’s cosmopolitan setting.
Finally, the environmental benefits from increased use of public transit should not be underestimated. Reducing the number of vehicles on the road, particularly single occupant cars, is critical to ensuring a sustainable quality of life over the long term in a fast-growing city such as Dubai. A well-developed public transportation infrastructure significantly reduces both energy consumption and pollution from emissions – an important factor in Dubai achieving its ambitious “green” goals.
The launch of the Metro is just the first step, however: its long-term success will depend on the extent to which Dubai’s residents and visitors embrace public transportation and, consequently, on the RTA’s responsiveness to customers’ needs and preferences.
The RTA’s highest priority at present is to drive ridership. The first-of-its-kind nature of the project and the accompanying marketing blitz has raised customer expectations; the RTA now must focus on meeting and even exceeding those expectations. Many of Dubai’s residents will be eager to try the Metro and the RTA must deliver a superior experience right away. The RTA has been working hard to ensure a smooth launch through extensive testing, including a two-week simulation period, and by staggering the operational expansion of services over the next few months. Once residents have given the Metro a try, turning them into regular riders will depend on whether the RTA can optimise a range of factors that people consider when determining which travel method to use, including price, security, comfort, and convenience. Customers consciously or otherwise make trade-offs across these factors in choosing their preferred option.
Keeping fares relatively low and ensuring a safe and comfortable travel environment, as the RTA has already done, will certainly play a role in encouraging ridership. Of greatest importance in Dubai, however, is the relative convenience of using public transport versus private vehicles. Reducing overall travel time, limiting the number of connections, increasing the frequency of services, seamlessly connecting from the Metro to end points, and providing comprehensive travel planning services and supporting technologies are some of the key options for increasing perceived convenience and encouraging regular use of the system.
Drawing in and keeping riders will require a clear focus on operational excellence and continuous improvement. The RTA will need to proactively monitor its performance from the very beginning and react quickly to changes in ridership patterns to keep customers coming back. It will be critical for the RTA to maintain service according to the published schedule, minimise service disruptions, and constantly optimise connectivity with feeder services.
The RTA has set a goal of moving 30 per cent of commuter traffic to the public transport system over time. Doing so will not only require great Metro service, but also that Dubai’s residents gradually come to perceive the use of private vehicles as being less convenient, especially in areas served by public transport.
While some initiatives have reportedly been mooted, including hiking Salik toll fees, increasing parking charges and restricting new licences and registrations, these measures will need to be introduced carefully over time and in alignment with the growth of public transport options. Conversely, easy vehicle ownership, inexpensive fuel and major investment in new road infrastructure may reduce the incentive to switch to public transportation.
The Metro is a great step forward for Dubai and its residents. With continued good planning and execution, it will play an important role in enhancing the quality of life in the city and keep Dubai on track to deliver an urban experience second to none.
– The writer is Associate Partner Oliver Wyman, Dubai