More shun cars, jump on metro

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By Shafaat Ahmed  www.khaleejtimes.com

A city that not so long ago took pride in the density of cars it had and continues to have one of the highest number of cars per capita in the world, Dubai is surprisingly adopting the culture of mass transit faster than expected.

An exceedingly successful Dubai Metro, an ever-growing network of public buses and a host of water transport services dotted across the city’s fabled creek have together turned things around for public transport in Dubai.

There has always been a small chunk of people who used public transport even before the advent of metro, but the rail system has succeeded in convincing a greater number to join the bandwagon.

The most surprising development of Dubai’s metro era is the conversion of a significant number of folks who were happily wedded forever to their cars. Read on to find out more about Dubai’s fast-changing transport scene as Khaleej Times gives you an insight into the Roads and Transport Authority’s (RTA) latest survey.

Pleasant surprise

The survey reveals several major changes in the way the city travels, but one of the most pleasant surprises revealed by the survey is the fact that 30 per cent of metro users opt for the trains despite having their own cars. This is not just surprising but a solid pat on the back for the RTA.

The authority has been employing various tools since its inception, the only focus of which being the reduction of traffic from the roads. By all means, Dubai Metro has been one of the most powerful and successful weapons in this endeavour, a fact clearly indicated by the above-quoted figure.

However, the RTA is in no mood to just sit back and revel at the laurels.

“This is an incredible achievement in just one year of the service, which has both amazed and amused us. Our focus is to double the number of this segment by next year. If we are able to do that, a majority of the city’s traffic problems would be solved,” said Ramdan Abdullah, Director of Metro Operations, shedding light on the results of the survey.

Contrary to the general belief that the public transport is used mostly by labourers and low-income people, a whopping 70 per cent of the metro users come from the educated and highly qualified strata, while only around 20 per cent of the commuters belong to the low-income category. However, the numbers reverse for buses, as 70 per cent of those who use buses belong to either middle class or lower middle class.

The data also reveals another interesting fact: the majority of the metro riders are long-term residents of Dubai, implying that the popularity of metro is not just a passing fad and that a greater number of people has already settled with metro as their regular mode of transport.

The survey shows that around 82 per cent of the metro users are permanent residents of Dubai either for the past five years or more, while around 80 per cent of bus users are permanent residents.

Clincher

Justifying the RTA’s claim that the metro is bringing to its fold people from diverse background and nationalities, the survey found that 7.3 per cent of metro users are Emiratis, which is a significant number, considering their sparse population as well as their known liking for the cars. However, only 0.2 per cent of bus commuters are Emiratis.

“We are immensely happy with this number (Emiratis form 7.3 per cent of metro users) as it is way beyond our expectation, it shows us the potential of metro to draw diverse public,” said Ramadan.

Another segment of the city’s population that took to mass transit with the advent of metro is that of Western expats. Their number among bus users continues to be low with just 2 per cent, while around 10 per cent Western expatriates are part of the metro population.

What is least surprising is the finding of the survey that 54.5 per cent and 82 per cent of metro and bus commuters, respectively, are Asians.

All is not well

But it’s not all rosy out there. A disturbing finding is the aversion of the very young and the very old to public transport. Of the teenagers, only 3.6 use metro and 6 per cent use buses, and only 0.3 per cent of the people above 60 travel in buses and 1 per cent in trains.

Another cause of concern is the imbalance the survey shows in the gender ratio of mass transit users. A staggering 79.2 per cent of metro riders are male. The scenario is worse for buses as only 12 per cent of the users are women.

Expectedly, two of the most popular metro stations are the centrally located Union and Khalid bin Waleed stations. The Union station takes the honours with 12.2 per cent of passengers while Khalid bin Waleed follows close behind with a share of 11.4 per cent. Incidentally, these are also the two stations that will cater to both the lines of the rail network once the Green Line opens.

Bus buzz

Amidst all this number crunching, we found some peculiar figures that reflect the growth of public buses in Dubai.

Incredibly, in a city that is confined to around 60 kilometres from one end to the other, around 1,436 of the RTA’s urban buses together clock 400 kilometres on average daily, putting the annual figure to 93 million kilometres. The number is achieved in 3.3 million trips made by the buses annually.

Though the number of routes has gone down from 119 last year to 92 this year, following the route rationalisation project that led to the cancellation of overlapping routes, the number of passengers has only gone up. The number of riders so far this year suggests a projected annual ridership of 121 million people, a million more than last year.

The findings of the survey clearly show that the culture of mass transit is slowly taking roots in the city, and like most of the worlds’ major metropolises, public transport is soon going to be the most favoured mode of commuting in Dubai.

The survey was conducted by a special of team of the RTA over the last few months, sampling 385 passengers of the metro and an unspecified number of regular bus commuters.

shafaat@khaleejtimes.com