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Metro opens door to unfamiliar places

Rail system opens up Dubai for residents and visitors but shop owners say they have yet to experience any increase in business.

DUBAI // Residents and tourists are flocking to ride on the Metro, using the Eid break as an opportunity to explore the city with their families. Many said they had visited, or planned to visit areas that they had either not seen before or had done so only rarely because of travel difficulties.

But there are signs that Dubai will not experience the full benefit of the railway system until it is fully open. Many business owners, particularly in Old Dubai, remain unconvinced that it will increase sales, fearing that it will be difficult, even impossible, to persuade would-be customers to get out of their cars and on to the train. The holiday, though, has provided an opportunity for discovery and exploration. To Lisa and Leo Psaras and their two children, who took the Metro from the Mall of the Emirates to the Financial District, the service was nothing but a blessing.

"It is convenient, it is safer, it is easier, and it is cheaper," said Mr Psaras, a Briton who has lived in Dubai for 15 years. "It has really opened up the city, which is a huge benefit, and we can go to places we have not been to in a while." Rose Sarceno was visiting from Abu Dhabi with six members of her family to take a "joyride" and see what all the fuss was about. "We're curious about it," she said. "We don't have a destination in mind. I think we'll just get on and discover what is available. It's different and it is exciting for the kids."

Among the thousands of people who passed through the 10 open stations, a large proportion were simply along for the ride. "We're using it for the novelty of it," said Frankie Brit, a mother travelling from Mall of the Emirates with her husband and two-year-old daughter. "We want to go to Burjuman, stay a while and come back." Mrs Brit said using the Metro, especially during public holidays and weekends, provided her with the chance to visit areas she had previously avoided because of traffic jams and a lack of parking.

"I've lived here for eight years, and I honestly can't remember the last time I went down to Deira City Centre," she said. "With the Metro I'll definitely go, and other places too." Sivakumar Nais and his wife, Sujani, had travelled from Ajman to Rashadiya with their daughter and took the Metro to Union station in Deira to visiting relatives and shop. "We wanted to spend part of our time here experiencing the Metro, and it was really great," said Mr Nais, outside Union station. Using the Metro was much cheaper than taking taxis, he said.

However, many business owners said they were yet to experience much "Metro effect" on their trade. Some questioned how useful the system would be before all the stations were open and the feeder bus routes extended across the city. "I'm not sure why people would use it to come here," said Rebecca de Courcy Ireland, the owner of The Majlis Gallery in Bastakiya, Bur Dubai. The area, home to Dubai's small yet growing arts scene and trendy restaurants, is next to Dubai's only national museum. While both places attract tourists, only a limited number of residents visit them.

"There are no buses to bring them here and the closest Metro station is about 20 minutes away on foot," said Mrs de Courcy Ireland. "For the Metro to work, they need to create a system that brings people down, establish a link with the area. As much as I hope it will make a difference, I don't think it will." Farah, the manager of the Bastakiya Art Cafe, felt that the people of Dubai did not have a Metro mentality.

"People would rather use their cars," she said. "Some people are just not used to the idea of the Metro, and it will take a while to adapt. "Since it opened, there has not been a difference in the number of customers we've received." Some residents were also wary of taking the Metro. "It is too much trouble," said William Cho, a Korean engineer who lives in the Marina and was visiting the museum.

"The station next to me isn't open, there is no parking, and there is no bus that gets me from the station to the destination. It's too many problems, when I can just take my car." In the Gold Souq, on the other side of Deira Creek, shopkeepers were sceptical that customers would ever be persuaded to use the public transport network. "The Metro has had no effect on increasing business," said Serkan Abay, the sales manager at Faris Zahron Jewellery. "Tourists come here on tour buses. And if locals are going to buy diamonds, they're not going to use the Metro to do that."

nsamaha@thenational.ae

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