DUBAI // Almost three quarters of a million commuters travelled for free on the Metro, buses and water taxis to mark Public Transport Day yesterday.
The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) estimates that 739,000 passengers took advantage of the waived fees, an increase of more than 42,000 from last year.
Some commuters spent hours scouring the stations for a chance to win a new bicycle in the "Find the Key" contest, one of the competitions and events planned for the day.
"I've been here now for almost two hours," said Mr Salvin Jacob, a surveillance-systems specialist. "I've looked in every nook and cranny, but still haven't found one.
"I heard about the contest on the radio and I asked some of the security guards who told me that a key would be located at Abu Hail station.
"I'm going to give up but not just yet; I want to give it another two hours."
Moments later, a surprised cry came from next to one of the ticket machines as Abrar Al Shafiee became the second person to find a key.
"I'm so excited. My husband and I have been looking for a key for almost an hour," said the mother of two.
Ahmad Awadh, Mrs Al Shafiee's husband, said: "We started the day by taking advantage of the free health checks at the Terminal 3 airport station, and then went to donate blood at the Al Ghubaiba station, so I guess this was like a return for our good deeds for the day."
Mrs Al Shafiee added: "I don't really want the bike for myself, but I'm hoping they would let me trade it in for two kids' bikes for my girls."
Mr Jacob looked on forlornly.
"I'm heartbroken," he said. "I mean, I'm happy for them that they won, but I spent two hours searching and it was right there in the open the whole time. I can't believe I didn't spot it."
Nine others found red keys at Sharaf DG, Emirates HQ and Abu Hail stations. Each key was attached to a yellow certificate with a telephone number the winners call to claim their prize.
Winners of public quizzes and a photography contest were also awarded prizes, including iPads and Dh500 Nol cards.
In the evening, the festivities shifted to Al Seef Road, where performers took to the street to encourage the public to walk more often.
RTA executives were also out in force for the day.
"We actually moved our meetings from the office to the stations to get a first-hand feel of how things were going today," said Adi Al Deesi, director of the asset management department at the RTA.
"The aim of today is to encourage different community segments to leave their private vehicles and use different means of public transport in the emirate.
"This will not only help reduce traffic on the roads, but it will also have a positive impact on the environment and the public's health."
RTA executives inspected several bus stations and Metro stations. They also met executives from Dubai Taxi, who discussed some of its services including the VIP taxi.
Other government departments the day included Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, which asked all of its employees to use public transport yesterday and even shut the employee car parks at its head office and at Al Hudaiba.
Dr Yousef Al Akraf, the executive vice president of business support at the utilities authority, said employees could set a good example by using mass transport.
"This day highlights the importance of conserving natural resources through the wise use of public transport," Dr Al Akraf said.