Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Trams are the glue of cities

Dubai tram is a welcome addition to a growing basket of city transport options
Dubai Tram is a welcome addition to the basket of transport options in the city. Sarah Dea / The National
Dubai Tram is a welcome addition to the basket of transport options in the city. Sarah Dea / The National

Few elements of the city landscape carry the symbolic weight of trams. Think of any European city in the early 20th century and chances are that tram lines criss-cross your mental image. Is it not curious that our conception of the urban environment is infused with such a traditional method of intracity travel? Not really, because trams serve the vital purpose of connecting city transport networks.

It should come as no surprise then that trams and other forms of light rail are enjoying a global renaissance. From Auckland to Los Angeles, city governments are investing heavily in new tram infrastructure because they are quiet, effective and environmentally sound solutions to transport challenges. The new Dubai tram demonstrates this ability to foster greater connectivity in a city by helping to close the distance between population centres (in places like the Marina) and the metro network.

Residents and tourists alike are finding it easier to move around the city without a car, making the tram system a valuable addition. Some drivers are inconvenienced, as The National has reported. But these are minor and overall, the entire city will benefit.

The success of the Dubai tram has enlivened the debate about similar projects in Abu Dhabi. While the debate is needed, we have to remain cognisant of the specific challenges associated with a tram network in the capital. For one, Abu Dhabi doesn’t have the same type of population density as Dubai. Any tram and metro network in the capital would need to focus on linking population centres.

It is rather ironic that trams, a somewhat archaic solution to the problem of urban transport, have become attractive again. Sometimes, time-tested options work best for cities.

Now that Dubai’s three-month-old tram service is up and running, Abu Dhabi has a worthy example near by to assess viability and use.