x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

The rewards of riding the rails

The Dubai Metro has slashed transport costs for commuters, making it feasible to live and work in different areas.

Generose Cuizon, a salesperson at a sweet shop at Mall of the Emirates, saves thousands of dirhams each year by riding the Metro.
Generose Cuizon, a salesperson at a sweet shop at Mall of the Emirates, saves thousands of dirhams each year by riding the Metro.

Taxi drivers in Dubai might be complaining about a lack of passengers since the opening of the Dubai Metro last year, but commuters are rejoicing. Not only has the city's transport network improved their daily lives, it has also meant massive savings. For Generose Cuizon, the Metro is not just a convenience: it's also a vital link between her home and work. Without it, life would be difficult. She uses it to travel from one end of Dubai to the other, from Mirdif to the Mall of the Emirates, six times a week. It's a tough commute by any standards, but the 28-year-old Filipina is grateful that she has cheaper alternative than taxis.

If she took taxis, her salary from working as a sales person in a sweet shop at Mall of the Emirates would be swallowed up by travel costs. Taking a bus would mean an even longer journey. "I could not afford to take taxis every day to work because it's so far and a taxi from Mirdif to Mall of the Emirates would be far too expensive," says Ms Cuizon. "So for me, the Metro is the best choice. Some people take a car lift from their home to work to save money on taxis, but nobody will offer me a car lift because Mirdif is too far away. Instead, I travel to the nearest station, Rashidiya, and get on the Metro to Mall of the Emirates using a silver card."

She spends Dh2 on a bus fare from Mirdif to Rashidiya and waits a few minutes for the train to Mall of the Emirates. There is an air-conditioned, connecting walkway straight into the mall. The journey costs her Dh5.80 each way and takes about 55 minutes door-to-door. A taxi would take half an hour, but cost more than Dh50 for a one-way journey. Working six days a week, that means she spends Dh3,620 every year riding the rails twice a day. And if she took a taxi back and forth, transportation would cost Ms Cuizon Dh600 per week, or a whopping Dh31,200 a year.

Ms Cuizon, who moved to the UAE in November last year, has always used the Metro to get to work and has no complaints, apart from one. "The Metro is quick and clean and it is not expensive. But it does not run on Friday mornings, which means I have to take buses. I wish it did run; on Friday mornings it takes me two hours just to get to work." There are plans to increase the hours of service, including Fridays, but until then, her commute on that day will continue to be arduous.

Since opening in September last year, new Metro stations have slowly but steadily been added to the network of stops that is now beginning to link Dubai in a cohesive manner. The Emirates, Airport Terminal One, Al Karama, Emirates Towers, Dubai internet City and Ibn Battuta stations opened at the end of last month. These were followed by GGICO (Garhoud), World Trade Centre and Al Quoz stations this month. There are seven more stations that will open when the Red Line is completed over the coming months, bringing the total to 29.

The Green Line is scheduled to be completed in August next year. For Dubai dwellers whose salaries afford them the luxury of taxis, choosing to use the Metro is as much about convenience as it is about saving money. Dave Donaghy, 31, says most of his friends continue to drive or take taxis because they can afford it. But as more stations open up closer to their homes, he thinks they'll also start taking trains.

"Living in London, I was used to my journey taking around an hour each way every day," he says. "But in Dubai, the attitude to what people feel is acceptable for a commute is a bit different and they don't want to take as long getting to work. Using the Metro has involved a bit of a lifestyle change - getting up a bit earlier and walking a bit further - but I make a massive saving compared to taxis."

"When I lived in Dubai Marina, I was spending around Dh120 each day just on taxis to Garhoud, which works out to around Dh2,400 a month; a fortune when you think about it. When the Metro station in the Marina opened, I started using it to save money. The journey took just under one hour. "The Metro from the Marina to Deira City Centre cost around Dh5 each way, or around Dh200 a month. That's a big difference."

Since moving to Satwa a few months ago, Mr Donaghy has continued to use the Metro, taking a free "feeder" bus from Satwa bus station to Al Jafliyah station and then onto Garhoud. "Purely for costs it is way cheaper," he says. "Living in Satwa, two taxis a day would cost me around Dh50 and over the course of the month it adds up to around Dh1,000. Yet the Metro is only Dh2 each way. I have a silver card and put credit on it and just swipe [it] in and out. The journey takes me about 20 minutes."

Mr Donaghy now spends about Dh80 a month on his commute and saves the rest. "I am moving back to the UK in a few months and want to save as much money as I can before I leave." He says the underground train system in London doesn't come close in terms of value for money. "The Dubai Metro is never crowded, dirty or late. It is clean, cheap and nicely busy - it would be a bit depressing if it was empty.

"In London you can easily spend around £5 [Dh26] just on a single journey. Here, it's pennies. You sit next to people you'd never normally sit next to in Dubai. It's just a nice cross-section of nationalities and social backgrounds. I like using it and I'm saving a fortune." While the Metro has come as a welcome addition to the city for many commuters, there are others who choose not to use it, preferring instead to stick to their cars.

Wissam Haroun, who runs Equinoxe Arabia, a film incubation company, has lived in Dubai for 38 years and says he spends about Dh300 on petrol and Salik every week, in addition to the annual Dh10,000 insurance on his sports car. "The allure of cost reduction is real for everyone, as is the allure of reducing wear and tear on a beloved car, or the allure of bypassing the hazards of transportation by using the Metro, which is statistically safer," says Mr Haroun.

"This is why I gave the Metro a good attempt on several occasions after the opening weekend." Despite enjoying the city's new mode of travel, other considerations have made his car the only mode of transport he will consider during a normal working day. Mr Haroun lives in Jumeirah, near the Iranian Hospital, and drives to work to Dubai Media City. His nearest Metro station is Financial Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road. It takes him 20 minutes to drive to work, whereas the Metro takes about an hour and 20 minutes.

"I drive to work because motoring affords me the flexibility I need to move around during the day. The Metro is not for me because my work requires me to be in many places during the average day. To do so, and still remain productive, while being able to call it a day at a reasonable hour, I need the ability to control my own destiny." For Catherine Langley, another car user, the inconvenience of the Metro's location plays a key role in her decision not to use public transport. Despite living in Burj Views and having the Burj Khalifa Metro nearby, it still takes half an hour to walk to the station. Ms Langley, who is 28 years old and from the UK, says the ongoing improvements to Dubai's roads have proven too irresistible.

"It is much quicker for me to drive to work, rather than using public transport. Door-to-door it takes me around 15 minutes if I go over Business Bay. It's a short drive and you don't pay Salik," says the journalist, who has lived in Dubai for six years. She pays about Dh50 a week for petrol and Dh1,000 a year to insure her 2009 Ford Fiesta. But the most irritating cost associated with her daily commute is the parking meter.

"The car is really economical on petrol and runs on the smell of an oil rag. The cost that does get annoying is the parking, which is a minimum of Dh50 a week in Garhoud. It's not that much, but it's finding the loose change every day. "Then, of course, there are the parking tickets that our helpful local parking wardens are all to keen to dish out whenever the opportunity presents itself." She says the decision to use her car is based on time: in the period it would take her to walk to the station, she can be at her desk and logging on to her computer at work.

"If there was a station a couple of minutes walk from my house I might be tempted to use it. It would be quite convenient in terms of not having to find change for parking every day, but now that the weather is getting hotter I can't see myself using it. Walking from my building to my car is bad enough." One commuter who is happy to save cash is Michelle Waldron. Like Ms Cuizon, Ms Waldron, who is from Ireland, works as a store manager at Faces, a beauty store in Mall of the Emirates. She believes the Metro is appealing for people who work in retail at Dubai's malls.

"I move around a lot in my job because I go to work at the different stores on a rotating basis, and the Metro stations are at all the main malls: Dubai Mall, Deira City Centre and Mall of the Emirates," she says. "So it's really convenient. Most of my friends who work in offices use cars, but my friends who work in the malls get the Metro." The 23 year old moved to Dubai in January this year from London. She has been saving about Dh700 a month by using the Metro rather than taxis since her local station at Dubai Marina opened.

"I used to spend around Dh50 a day, six days a week, on taxis from the Marina to Dubai Mall; around Dh960 a month just on travel," she explains. "Yet getting the Metro is so cheap, quick, clean and comfortable. It takes me around 25 minutes to get to work. I spent a fortune on taxis before: Dh240 a week. Now I spend around Dh200 a month on Metro travel and it lasts me three weeks or so. It's very cheap."