DUBAI // Something that promises to give tourist transport a lift is taking shape on Dubai Creek. For some weeks, the city has been testing a hop-on, hop-off water bus service that is expected to be in full swing by the time the new Metro opens in September. The trial runs have been low-key, with only about 10 passengers hopping on and off each day. But Mohammed Obaid al Mulla, the chief executive of the Roads and Transport Authority's marine agency, believes passenger numbers will increase after a marketing campaign next month and once the first Dubai Metro line opens. "We are still testing it, but it will get busier," Mr al Mulla said of the boat service. "It is also connected to two of the Metro stations, so after[the Metro opens], we'll expect a lot more customers."
The air-conditioned water bus is designed to carry up to 36 passengers at a time and stop at five stations along the creek. While residents will be able to use the water bus, it is expected to be used more as a tourist taxi, allowing visitors to hop on and off near the Creek's attractions. The first bus is scheduled to leave Al Shandagha Station in the Heritage Village at 9am, and the last one to leave Creek Park Station for Al Shandagha Station at 11.30pm. Throughout the day, passengers will be able to board at Deira Old Souk, Al Seef and Bur Dubai stations every hour and a half. "Tourists can buy a ticket and use the boats to get to some of the best parts of Dubai," Mr al Mulla said. The water bus, which stops next to the Gold Souk and the Heritage Village, docks for 10 minutes and runs at 90-minute intervals. The fare of Dh50 for adults and Dh25 for children is valid for an unlimited number of trips through the day, from 9am to midnight. Tourists braving the midday sun on Saturday said they were unaware of the service but liked the idea.
"I would not mind doing that. We are getting taxis everywhere but we did get an abra across the creek this morning," said Steve Ray from the UK, referring to the traditional craft used on the Creek. "We have just walked around the Gold Souk, and we really don't know what or where we are going to go now. "If we had done some more research we would know what to do next, but the water bus idea seems like it would take all the hassle from that." Tourists waiting to take abras across the creek at Bur Dubai Station also said the water bus was a good idea, but they wondered about the price. "If I can pay Dh2 to get to the other side of the creek, why should I pay Dh50 to go to four other stations?" said Matthew Carey, also from the UK. Dubai already has several water bus routes, including the Dh4 ride between Creek Park and Bur Dubai stations via Al Seef Station. That service runs every hour, and the full trip lasts 25 minutes.
But the hop-on, hop-off scheme is a new dimension: by linking up with abras, the Metro and street buses, it is meant to give tourists options beyond taxis. Taxi drivers who were asked for their reaction were not thrilled at the prospect of additional competition but put on a brave face, saying the fare for the water bus was too high to pose a significant threat to their business. "It may be better for tourists because they don't have to sit in the traffic in that part of town. It is also very expensive," said Mohammad Iqbal from Pakistan, who has been driving in the city for the last five years. If taxi drivers feel slighted when the service is up and running, there should also be clear winners. Bur Dubai Station is in one of the city's busiest tourist spots and is close to Al Saeediya Metro Station. "There are always lots of tourists around here all of the time," said Joy Segovia, from the Philippines, who runs a souvenir stall next to Bur Dubai Station. "There is no let-up in the number of tourists and customers, but if there are more services bringing more people here, it will benefit us." The manager of a restaurant opposite the Old Souk Station, who declined to give his name, said the service would bring more people to the restaurant, especially if they missed the boat. "But they may just take another abra. It depends where they want to go," he said. "I think it should be good for tourists, who will now have an extra thing to do or see." There is not much for tourists at Al Seef Station, but it can provide a connection to the Burjuman shopping centre, where there will be a Metro station when the rail service launches. Creek Park is more popular with residents than with tourists, but Pradeep Bhatia, a Dubai resident from India, said reaching the park from the station was easy. "I park here most days and use the water bus to get to the other side of the creek," he said on the jetty of the Creek Park Station. "I always bring my family down here in the winter, and if [the water bus] is promoted properly, maybe tourists would take a picnic with them and spend time in the park." Mr Bhatia also said the water bus service would be good for residents who have friends visiting because they would be able to buy the ticket and not worry about city traffic and parking. How the water buses compete with land buses remains to be seen. "We've taken the hop-on, hop-off bus tour yesterday, which took us to everywhere we wanted to go to," said David Creegan from the US, who was in Dubai on a working holiday. "The only problem was traffic, but the boats can't go to the malls and some of the other destinations here. "When the Metro opens, I suppose it would be a lot easier to get around without using the roads, and I'd imagine it would be more relaxing to travel by water." email@example.com