DUBAI // With exactly a month to go before the public swarms through the ticket gates of the new Metro, the stations and track alongside Sheikh Zayed Road are a hive of activity aimed at ensure everything is ready for the big day. On 09/09/09, the inaugural date for the 52km Red Line, thousands of passengers are expected to leave the road below for the train, changing their established daily routines. There is some confusion among those prospective passengers, however - which stations will be open come September? How will they get from the station to work? How much will the journeys cost? Some of the stations can be regarded as finished. Through the large windows of Jebel Ali Station, operational staff can be seen training at night, and motorists who pass by the Mall of the Emirates Station may catch a glimpse of reddish paintings on the walls.
But others, such as Emirates Towers and Internet City stations, are still surrounded by scaffolding. Nevertheless, whatever its state of completion on opening day, the Metro will undoubtedly ease the lives of many commuters. One of these commuters is Brasanna Munaweena, who has taken the X25 bus from Fish roundabout in Deira to Knowledge Village every working day since he moved to Dubai from Sri Lanka three years ago.
"Sometimes when I go early in the morning it can take up to an hour and a half with traffic," he said from the back seat of the bendy bus. "Today, as it's later in the morning, it should take 45 minutes." As the bus moved out of Bur Dubai station, more commuters closed their eyes, plugged in earphones or just stared blankly out the window at the harsh dust-and-iron landscape of Port Rashid. Mr Munaweena's bus route has more than 20 stops, which he said "takes some time". For that reason alone, he was looking forward to the Metro.
"It will be quicker, and I live right next to the main station in Deira," he said. "It will not only save me time, but should be a lot easier." Specifically, the Metro should take Mr Munaweena just 27 minutes with 11 stops, according to the recently launched website detailing schedules. Yet the morning traffic is nothing compared with the evening rush hour. "After eight hours of work, the Metro would be a much better option," he said.
Furthermore, waiting for a bus could be more tiring than riding on it. "Sometimes two or three buses will pass but say they are full," Mr Munaweena said. "We could be waiting up to 30 minutes for a bus. We can see right in and there is lots of standing room. "When a bus does stop, there is hardly any standing room but we still get on. After a full day's work, its not easy to stand the whole way." The Metro's initial phase, consisting of two lines, will cost the RTA Dh15.5 billion (US$4.2bn) and eventually be the world's longest driverless railway system. The RTA has said it expects to increase the number of public transport users to 30 per cent from the current six per cent by 2020. The five-carriage trains will be capable of carrying 643 passengers each and will run every 3.45 minutes during peak times.
But information about the workings of the Metro, such as timings and routes, has so far been minimal. The RTA has kept a lot of the information under wraps until only recently, when it embarked on phase two of its marketing campaign, consisting of new advertisements and slogans. The pricing structure with zones was announced in June, but the number of stations that will be open on September 9 is still a tightly kept secret.
Mr Munaweena suspects that to start with he will have to alight from the Metro at the Mall of the Emirates Station - two stops before Internet City, the station closest to his workplace. "Will there be a bus service?" he asked. The RTA says there will be 41 feeder routes for the Red Line, with buses running every five to 10 minutes, and that existing lines will be re-routed to join up at some of the stations.
Yet, with only a month to go, there is no information on the new routes, and regular commuters are wondering how the Metro will ease their daily journeys. "I know it will be cheap," Mr Munaweena said. "I've read that in the papers, but that is all I know at the moment." Kirshan Mishra, 32, from India, rides a taxi each day to Al Qusais, where he catches a bus to Al Ghubaiba station. There he gets a connection to Jumeirah Beach Road, where he works in a coffee shop.
It is a two-hour expedition each way, but would take only 30 minutes in a car with light traffic. Mr Mishra would like to try the Metro, but is still unsure if it will be practical for him. "There is a station close enough to where I work," he said, "but I will not be able to get it from home. I'll still have to get buses, but maybe the Metro will make it a bit quicker." Sham Somy, a logistics co-ordinator, was waiting for the 91 Direct, which takes passengers from the heart of the city to Gate Seven in Jebel Ali Port.
He, too, is looking forward to the Metro, even if it will take him only part of the way. "It'll save time and I will not be stuck all the time sitting on buses in traffic," he said. "But the main problem is the Metro will only run as far as Gate Four." It was still unclear whether Gate Seven would be serviced by feeder buses. If not, he said he might not be interested. "What's the point in taking different forms of transport when you get a bus that will take you straight to where you want to go?" he asked.
"Also, more people will be taking the Metro so there will be less traffic, and the bus will stop a lot less too." One message that has filtered out concerns the comfort features associated with the Metro. These include air-conditioned stations, a Gold Class with luxury leather seats, a waiting time of no more than seven minutes and internet availability. "I know it will be comfortable, more so than the bus," said Cherian Kurian, a marketing manager from Kerala.
"I live next to the Bur Dubai station, and it will take me to Jebel Ali where I work." Neseem Uddin from India was waiting for a bus next to the Burjuman Shopping Centre, where a Metro station will eventually serve as a connecting point for the Red and Green lines. "I travel all over the city and the only way for me is the bus," said the fire and safety alarm inspector. Mr Uddin was hoping to sit his driving test next month but still expected to use the Metro.