When the RAK Transport Authority was created in 2007, the goal was to build a first-rate transport network for the northernmost emirate. But five years later, the authority risks whittling away the backbone of public transport services.
As The National reported yesterday, Ras Al Khaimah is considering cancelling some bus routes connecting far-flung areas of the emirate and industrial areas with city centres. The rationale is low ridership figures; officials say less-popular routes might be abandoned if numbers don't rebound by the end of the year.
We hope it doesn't come to that. There deserves to be a careful study of transport needs in the emirate, in addition to current passenger numbers. Lower ridership numbers might be caused by under-developed services rather than a decline in need.
The population of RAK has grown to about 300,000 people, with further growth expected as new residential units come on line. Economic surveys find that, on average, RAK residents have lower incomes - these are the people who often benefit the most from public transport.
Part of the trouble is that while the buses are on the roads, the overall public transport system needs work. Passengers (and potential passengers) report that routes are poorly mapped, and schedules impossible to come by. One RAK resident, Paul Crary, says he spends hundreds of dirhams a week taking taxis to and from the city simply because he can't find a bus schedule with which to plan his day.
Residents of all but the highest income levels will turn to public transport with the right incentives. In Abu Dhabi, air-conditioned bus shelters, expanding service and easily accessible maps and schedules - online and at stops - make taking the bus a breeze. Dubai's Metro and the country's inter-emirate bus services are other examples of transport projects done well.
Rather cutting service, RAK should fill the gaps in existing routes. Encouraging riders with easy-to-read schedules and maps is a first step. That might see an increase in passengers. If not, a comprehensive transport study should be commissioned to determine demand.
If the goal is to get more people into public transport, RAK must do a better job at promoting the services it has.