DUBAI // A procession of white kanduras made its way through Dubai Metro's Etisalat station yesterday morning before cramming into a single cabin at the start of Dubai's fourth Car Free Day.
The crowd of government officials - led by Hussain Lootah, the director general of Dubai Municipality and accompanied by Dr Rashid bin Fahad, the Minister of Environment and Water as well as Humaid Al Qatami, the Minister of Education - disembarked at Union Station on the Green Line for a short walk to the Dubai Municipality office.
There they found the usually overfull car park had been transformed into a festive gathering, with traditional Yola dancers on hand to greet the pedestrian procession and displays showcasing green initiatives undertaken by the municipality, the Roads and Transport Authority and other government departments.
About 5,000 employees from 27 government departments, companies and education entities pledged to leave their cars at home this year. Last year, only 18 groups took part.
It is estimated that the reduction in road traffic prevented the emission of 14 tonnes of carbon dioxide. And emissions will be lowered even further thanks to a pledge by Al Serkal Group to plant 60,000 trees -12 for every vehicle kept off the road yesterday. It is estimated that 12 trees can compensate for the carbon emissions of a typical saloon car.
"I need everybody to love Dubai. I need everybody to look after Dubai, I need everybody to keep Dubai clean and green," said Mr Lootah.
"When we started, we only concentrated on municipality employees. Then we added the government sectors near to us. Now today we have enlarged the focus and looked at inviting private businesses that are located near metro stations. Our aim is to have the participation of all government and private organisations," he said.
"We encourage all municipality employees to use the metro. Currently we have 150 employees using the metro to come to work everyday, and as an incentive we handout Nol cards. The idea is being accepted by the public, and that is what we are aiming for."
Atiq Juma Faraj Naseeb, the senior director for commercial services at Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also took part in Car Free Day. But commuting on the metro is not unusual for him.
"I don't think there is a day of the week where I don't use the metro," he said. "It's both convenient and efficient. After a long day at work, the last thing I want is to drive around and add more stress. It also allows me to meet people I wouldn't otherwise have come in contact with. I'm proud that in our city we can enjoy a world-class level of public transport."
Events like Car Free Day, he said, provided a perfect opportunity to spread the message of environmental sustainability.
"I want to tell every parent to start educating their children about the importance of the environment, about the importance of not littering, about the importance of recycling," said Mr Naseeb. "I want them to practise this in their homes. There is nothing to be ashamed of in collecting a few cans and taking them to the recycling bins."
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry building is one of the few in the region certified as "green" and employees are encouraged to support environmental projects. For example, it offers a free valet service and parking to staff and visitors who use eco-friendly vehicles.
"We wanted to first start with ourselves, and then through our actions convince our members to embrace green initiatives."
Mr Lootah said he also uses the metro regularly, especially when he has to attend an event at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
"The environment is part of our responsibility, and we have a complete system controlling various aspects around the city.
"But we can't work individually as Dubai Municipality, we have to work as a society. Society is responsible for keeping the city clean, protecting the environment and participating in environment events."