x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Buses and trains will become the UAE's moving choices

UAE citizens and residents aren't married to their cars - driving is simply the most viable transport option at the moment.

For those of us who remember what the UAE's roads were like 20 years ago, we can confidently say things have improved. I can still recall the almost hourly sound of screeching tires, usually a prelude to the sound of crashing metal; sounds I regularly heard from my family's apartment overlooking the Abu Dhabi Corniche in the early 1990s.

In those days, many drivers routinely used the Gulf side of the road as a drag strip, often ending in ugly scenes. Almost every week, a family member or friend would speak of a person they knew losing their life on the street, which seemed to be the primary cause of death in the country.

Thankfully, through the development of the road system, increased enforcement of traffic rules, added speed cameras and more public awareness about road safety, I have returned to Emirati roads that are significantly safer to navigate.

But as shown by Monday's Al Ain road tragedy - which killed 24 and injured just as many, making it most likely the deadliest in UAE history - we still have a lot of work to do in reducing road fatalities.

One obvious and much-touted method of achieving this is to decrease the number of drivers, passengers and cars on our streets. The number of vehicles on the streets of the UAE is increasing at a staggering rate, rising by 20 per cent in the emirate of Abu Dhabi last year to 830,000, while Dubai's RTA registers 3,500 cars a day on average.

With the country's population set for continued growth as a result of a strong local economy and a relatively weak global one, these figures will only grow.

The most effective and efficient way to combat traffic on the streets is the development and championing of public transport.

This has already begun in earnest, with more than 367 million people using Dubai's current public transport system last year, including an increase of 69 million metro users alone in 2012.

Abu Dhabi has begun construction on its own metro and light rail system, which should complement its current bus system by 2016-17.

On the national level, the Etihad Rail project is developing a 1,200km railway network linking the entire nation and eventually connecting to other GCC countries by 2018. Predominantly transporting freight, each fully loaded train will take 300 lorries from the road. There are also plans eventually to run passenger trains between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Although significant strides have been and will continue to be made in the field of public transport, only 13 per cent of Dubai's population is utilising these services, with numbers in the other parts of the country undoubtedly lower.

This is not because citizens and residents are married to their vehicles - many would gladly give up the frustration of congestion and the fear of accidents - but because driving is the most viable current option.

With the continued development and expansion of public transportation in the Emirates, I look forward to the day where I can read my newspaper on the way to work instead of worrying about which driver is about to cut me off.

Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US

tsubaihi@thenational.ae