Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Abu Dhabi's Salik-style toll system could be transformative 

As with VAT, growing pains are to be expected. But action is necessary amid rising congestion

Cars line up in thickening traffic during the beginning of rush hour in Abu Dhabi. Silvia Razgova / The National
Cars line up in thickening traffic during the beginning of rush hour in Abu Dhabi. Silvia Razgova / The National

When Salik was first introduced in Dubai in 2007 in a bid to ease traffic, there were rumblings of discontent and endless speculation about the cost to drivers, the efficiency of the system and the ability of the technology to cope with millions of cars on the road. Eleven years on, the road toll system is part and parcel of everyday life for those who live and commute within the city. The rules are clearly defined, the system automated and accessible via smartphone and the process of paying credit and fines is as seamless as can be expected. So the decision to introduce a similar toll system in Abu Dhabi – which has its own traffic problems – is an astute one and not without precedent. While the finer details are still to be made clear, President Sheikh Khalifa announced the introduction of a Salik-style toll in the capital on Sunday. The toll will come into effect after the Department of Transport determines appropriate locations for toll gates, fees and operation times. Naturally, ambulances, armed forces vehicles, fire engines, buses and motorcycles will be exempt. Few details have emerged about the scheme so far. But while Abu Dhabi residents will initially feel it in their pockets, its potential long-term benefits are significant.

If the system resembles Dubai’s, it will be a relatively painless transition. There were initially teething problems in Dubai with the radio frequency identification technology used to automatically deduct toll fares from Salik tags stuck on cars failing to work properly but government authorities responded in the period of adjustment by waiving fines in the first few months – something which would hopefully be reflected when the system is rolled out in Abu Dhabi. By encouraging people to adopt alternative modes of transport and reducing the number of vehicles on the roads, tolls can transform modern metropolises. Fewer vehicles mean less pollution. Cars waste gallons of fuel each year while stuck in traffic, spewing out greenhouse gas emissions. If electric cars are exempt – as they are in Dubai – it would encourage investment in clean vehicles, improving the air quality for all. And pollution is a major contributor to rising cases of heart disease and cancer in the UAE in recent years, as health studies have shown. In addition, tolls can save businesses and commuters money and time. Roads could become safer for pedestrians.

In its first 100 days, Salik in Dubai generated more than Dh200 million for the city's coffers. Revenues can be reinvested in city infrastructure or used to plan for the country’s future. As with the recently introduced VAT, growing pains are to be expected. Yet the consumption tax has, within a few weeks, become part of daily life. In Dubai, the same can be said for Salik. Ultimately this country’s residents need to be incentivised to reduce their carbon footprint. Sunday’s decision to introduce tolls in Abu Dhabi is a step in the right direction.