Tough love to keep Dubai’s rails clean



When a 12-year-old is arrested for eating chips on a subway – and a judge upholds that ruling – you know that you’re dealing with no ordinary litter police.

6In fact, the transit police on Washington DC’s metro are known to be tough on minor crimes, and offenders such as poor Ansche Hedgepeth, who was in seventh grade when she was led away in cuffs back in 2000, have come to understand the real meaning of zero tolerance.

Will the Dubai Metro soon follow suit? As we report today, the emirate’s transit authorities are issuing steep fines for minor infringements, such as chewing gum or even running for the train. The police have yet to catch up with french-fry violators, but the message is clear: respect the rules or pay up.

Critics may baulk at the austerity of such enforcement, but the underlying psychology of crime deterrence is clear. Both Washington and Dubai are operating from a “broken windows” school of thought, which aims to fix small, manageable problems before they lead to bigger, incontrollable ones. Much like fixing broken windows on a building in order to discourage further acts of vandalism, enforcing strict rules on petty crime early on can deter problems in the future.

Think about it this way: one chewing gum wrapper is nothing. But one chewing gum wrapper dropped by every passenger every day for one year means 20 million pieces of litter – and that’s no petty crime.

Likewise, one graffiti tag can be negligible. But one graffiti tag scrawled along every centimetre of clear space – as done on the subway trains of New York City during the 1980s – is a telling sign of a city out of control and of vandalism run amuck. (It’s also a headache for whomever foots the bill; cleaning up the New York City subway took years and millions of taxpayers’ dollars).

One need only look at New York City, or even Paris’s subway, to see how time, let alone crime and misuse, can wear down a public transport system. Let’s not make that the future of Dubai’s rails.