The global slowdown that reached UAE shores late last year has a silver lining for courier firms: a long-awaited respite from Dubai's traffic chaos. Logistics companies are reporting faster transit times for collections and deliveries in Dubai, whose six-year economic boom was followed closely by a growing traffic problem within the emirate, and in neighbouring Sharjah.
The congestion threatened to strangle economic growth and was a prime reason for Dubai's US$3.4 billion (Dh12.48bn) investment in a metro system, which is scheduled to open in September. Redundancies and project delays and cancellations have hit the emirate in recent months as the global financial crisis has dried up funding needed to continue its breakneck growth. Some forecasts have predicted a population decline of between 5 per cent and 8 per cent in Dubai this year.
"In December, the traffic was normal, but there was a big change directly after Christmas," said Derek Tully, an operations manager at DHL Express, the largest courier and logistics firm in the UAE. "I would guess a lot of people didn't come back." Mr Tully first noticed the roads were quieter on a trip to Jebel Ali port and free zone just after the New Year. "Before Christmas there were always traffic jams and queues into Jebel Ali," he said. "Then there was no traffic and no queue. I didn't think anything of it until the third time around."
With fewer cars on the road doing fewer trips, the logistics firm, which handles 20,000 shipments each day with a fleet of 200 motorcycles, small vans and lorries, has been able to schedule more trips in a day. It has also pushed back the time for its final evening delivery from 7pm to 7.30pm in some parts of the city. DHL's office in Al Quoz, an industrial area known for roads congested with lorries, is now able to choose among three routes out of the area, where previously it was limited to wherever presented the least traffic.
Prior to the slowdown, transport firms were forced to find innovative ways to beat the congestion, which ensnared drivers on Emirates Road, Sheikh Zayed Road and routes leading to Sharjah for hours. With lorry drivers able to complete fewer trips per day, the higher transport costs were passed to the customer, driving up inflation. Oman Transport Establishment, a UAE-based firm with 300 vehicles, was forced to make all of its Dubai deliveries at night because of the day traffic, said Selwyn Burbridge, the company general manager.
Meanwhile, Hussein Hachem, the chief executive for Aramex in the GCC, said the traffic easing may also be credited to investments by the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority in new roads, bridges and highways. "The trend of easing congestion began earlier than the slowdown," he said. firstname.lastname@example.org