After suffering through four years of disruption and dislocation caused by rail construction, Dubai's residents today finally get to welcome the Metro, which many hope will make the city far more user-friendly. Launch formalities begin at 7.45 tonight, when VIPs gather in the Galleria of the Mall of the Emirates before boarding the first train and the Metro's Red Line is declared open by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) also has high expectations of the new rail system. Speaking on Dubai TV last night, Mattar al Tayer, the board chairman and executive director of the RTA, said the authority expects the Metro to break even within seven years. The RTA also expects a payoff from the Metro in better traffic conditions. Congestion costs the Dubai economy Dh5.2bn (US$1.4 bn) per year because of lost time and accidents, Mr al Tayer said, noting that Dubai today has nearly three times the number of registered vehicles as it had when the Metro project began in 2005.
Yesterday, as people began to absorb the idea that the end of the project really was in sight, some began to make plans to let the train take the strain out of their daily journeys. "It will be great, believe me," said Abdul Sabbah, 32, a Jordanian who commutes by car to work in Media City from his home next to Khalid bin Al Waleed Station (formerly called the Burjuman Station) in Bur Dubai. "I'll take it from my home in Bur Dubai to work. Why not? I can't find parking anywhere anymore."
Mr Sabbah even hoped to take his wife and 11-month-old son for a ride this evening, after the family had broken their daily Ramadan fast. But he might find that plan frustrated; confusion over when the Metro would open to the public remained up until the last minute. A few hundred lucky winners among the 10,000 who applied to the RTA for Golden Tickets will ride the first train tonight, but it is unclear whether everyone else will have to wait until the Metro opens its doors at 5.30 tomorrow morning.
Nevertheless, Dubai was infused with mounting excitement yesterday as the authorities geared up for tonight's launch, tying up countless loose ends. And the tracks were busy with the already familiar blue trains making test runs. "I'm hoping everybody will use it," said Ali Abdulaziz, a 32-year-old Emirati who works in the federal Government. "As you can see, everything in Dubai is becoming expensive; I pay for petrol for my car, then Salik [the road toll]," he added. "I'll take it to work and when I go out at night."
Mr Abdulaziz will certainly save money. Depending on the length of a journey, the cost of a single trip can range from Dh1.8 to Dh6.5, while daily passes cost Dh14 each. Some felt that the RTA's awareness campaign had been deficient. Carol Burns, 50, a Briton who works in the health industry, said there had been rumours - but no official confirmation or denial - that the Metro would not be available to the general public on its much-touted opening date of 9/9/09.
"I believe it's not open for the public tomorrow, but for the day after," Mrs Burns, who lives in downtown Burj Dubai, correctly surmised. In fact, only 10 of the 29 stations on the Red Line will be open from the start. It remains to be seen whether the Metro will, as the RTA hopes, increase the number of people who use public transportation in the city from below 10 per cent to 30 per cent. Lucian Deese, 27, a German national who was visiting Dubai, said he would find it difficult to take the Metro because the emirate was already heavily dependent on cars.
"Dubai is a car city, and the Metro doesn't cover a lot of it." Some, however, were eagerly looking forward to riding the rails. For Valerie, 60, a Briton and oil industry employee who did not wish to give her last name, the novelty of riding the advanced public transport system was reason enough to take the Metro. "It's Dubai; you have to try all the new things at least once," she said. firstname.lastname@example.org