DUBAI // More than 110,000 people, which represents nearly 10 per cent of Dubai's population, used the Metro in its first two days of operation. On Thursday, the first day the network was open to the public, 67,000 people took to the 41km of opened track, while on Friday, after a 2pm opening, 47,000 people had ridden the Metro by midnight.
While the Roads and Transportation Authority, which released the figures yesterday, hailed the network's "fantastic" success, some commuters still had reservations about the system's reliability after trains were delayed for long stretches and patience-testing queues formed in stations on Friday. "It was a fantastic two days for the RTA," said Peyman Younes Parham, director of marketing and corporate communications for the RTA. "We've actually had 67,000 people come to the Metro stations on Thursday, which was above any expectation we had. For this soft opening of 10 stations, it's breathtaking to see the numbers coming out to support the Metro."
Christian Wolmar, a UK-based author and broadcaster on rail systems, said: "I say that's brilliant and shows there must be a huge immediate appetite." The RTA previously said it expected 3,500 passengers per hour in each direction. For the first 28 hours of operations, it carried 4,071 passengers per hour on average. Despite the encouraging turnout, the Metro's early life was marred by delays, faulty carriage doors and malfunctioning ticket machines, and many passengers said they were not quite ready to count on it to commute to work.
Passengers said yesterday that a lot of trains were running behind schedule, and that problems persisted with ticketing machines. However, it appeared to be running with fewer glitches. "Yesterday was a nightmare as I was stuck at stations three times," Akbar Khan, a Pakistani accountant, said about Friday's disruptions. "But today, there are fewer people and it is a good commute for everyone." Even so, some trains stopped for more than 10 minutes at stations before moving ahead. Passengers travelling to Al Rashidiya station at around 7am said the Metro sat at the Terminal 3 station for more than 20 minutes.
"It's like a newborn baby; it does not know how to walk or talk right now," said Naser al Balouchi, an employee at Emirates Airline, who was riding to Al Rashidiya after his night shift. As the day progressed, the problems subsided, and by noon the trains were running normally with a regular influx of commuters at almost all the stations. "It's excellent," said Alice John, from Britain, who was taking the train from Mall of the Emirates to Deira City Centre. "We did not have any problems, and it has been a smooth ride from one part of the city to the other in no time. I'll get a lot more time for shopping at different malls."
At some stations, however, escalators were not functioning and ticket machines were out of order. Long queues were seen at the ticket counters in Al Rashidiya, one of the busiest stations, where at least four ticket machines were not working. The problem was resolved by the late afternoon. Metro staff continued to urge commuters to be patient while travelling. SMS text messages were sent out asking passengers not to "abuse the system" - a reference to those who were quick to press the emergency stop buttons on trains on Friday - and warning of legal action. Announcements were made at the stations asking commuters to follow the rules.
With passenger numbers beating expectations, technical glitches in the operating system would be exacerbated, rail experts said. Mr Wolmer described the problems as "absolutely, perfectly normal". The RTA conceded that the Metro's fare-card system, which is linked to the bus network, was "very complicated", but said the operational troubles were "very simple and solvable". "They are not delaying anything in operations, but we continue to test and review the system," Mr Parnam said.
He said extra points of sale for fare cards had been set up at the entrance to some of the stations to avoid long queues at the ticket counters, and that extra staff had been provided at customer service desks, platforms and places where passengers swipe their cards. Despite the RTA's reassurances, only a few people said they would risk using the Metro to get to work today. "I see that most people on this train are just here to see Dubai through the Metro and nobody is really using it for work," said Satyajit Kar, an Indian living in Bur Dubai. Even though Metro stations are close to his home and office, Mr Kar was not prepared to use the train today. "Not now," he said. "I will probably try it later."
At Al Rashidiya, the main station for commuters from Sharjah, many riders said they would not use the Metro for daily commuting this week because of the scarcity of stations and unreliability of service. "Right now we are just using it for fun," said Edwin Capallan, a Filipino living in Sharjah. "But what happens if we are working and get stuck at the station? We have to be sure that trains are on time. I will use the bus for now."