DUBAI // Sit back, relax and leave the driving to us. That's the message from public transport officials, who say plans are on track to get more people out of their cars and into buses while travelling within Dubai and to other emirates in an effort to keep roads congestion to a minimum.
Attracting new users, such as middle and upper-class travellers, for inter-city buses and feeder services that connect with the Metro is part of Dubai's plan to boost public transport usage. Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) officials aim to have 30 per cent of residents using public transport by 2020, up from 12 per cent at present. "After we introduced the new buses we saw a different segment of people travelling," said Mohammad Abu Bakr al Hashimi, the RTA's director of planning and business development for its public transport arm. "Before there were more workers and labourers. Now the middle class is using buses and many are taking buses to Abu Dhabi and Sharjah."
Some 325,000 people travel every day in 1,540 buses across Dubai, while 130 buses carry another 39,000 people on at least 30 intercity routes from Sharjah to Fujairah, RTA figures showed. Dr Cedwyn Fernandes, a logistics expert who works as an associate professor at Middlesex University Dubai, said a cross-section of people would be increasingly inclined to use the buses if the vehicles were viewed as useful alternatives.
"If it's comfortable, efficient and priced correctly, people will change over from cars to public transport," he said. "There will be an increasing trend of the middle class to use public transport, especially once the integrated public transport linking public buses and the Metro gets more aligned." Better frequency, comfortable seating and more available buses have played a role in residents making the shift. Punctuality has improved dramatically, reaching 60 per cent in May compared with 17 per cent in the same period a year earlier. Still, Mr al Hashimi acknowledged that the emirate had some way to go to persuade residents to give up their cars.
"For many it's a question of lifestyle," he said. "It depends on culture because many people here are used to cars since we were kids. Tourists are used to buses in their own countries." The RTA reviews projects to track feasibility and had scrapped a service exclusively for women, which had started on an experimental basis with seven buses between Satwa and Deira in April. "We evaluated the system and there were not many passengers," Mr al Hashimi said. "On all our buses there are seats reserved for ladies so there was no need to reserve a whole bus for women."
Public transport has helped commuters such as Shailini Mehta find a measure of independence. She had relied on her husband to take her to work near the Greens, in northern Dubai, from their home across town in Deira until she discovered the bus two months ago. "Half our time was spent co-ordinating schedules and we wasted time waiting for each other," she said. "I heard about the buses from friends. It's comfortable, on time [and] I travel in air-conditioned comfort. What more do I need?"