Campaigns should be organised to encourage people to use buses, taxis and trains.
Public transport is preferable in UAE, on holiday and at home
When you travel abroad, what do you do for transportation? Most of us (Arab and non-Arab alike) use some mode of public transportation. Maybe we book a taxi in advance. Or perhaps we hail one when we get there. Either way, public transportation is our preferred choice.
This is especially true in London, a city many Gulf citizens visit during the summer. There, people take cabs, catch the bus and stuff themselves into the Tube. The transportation networks in London, like elsewhere, are decades old. Mass transit is cheaper than hiring a car and getting a parking permit. And it's easy and convenient to learn the bus or Tube routes and get to your destination without much hassle.
For me and my family, using public transportation abroad has become somewhat of a habit. It's a way to explore and connect with a place that you would miss otherwise.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, as they say.
Unfortunately, this adage doesn't apply to the UAE. If visitors to the UAE did as Emiratis did, they'd basically avoid public transportation altogether.
For as long as I can remember, the UAE has had taxis and some buses. In 2009, we heralded the launch of the Dubai Metro. Our taxi and bus fleets increase by the year, and Eithad Rail - which will be for commercial transport first, but could carry passengers later - is under construction. But the use of public transportation in the UAE is limited to a certain category of people who use it on a daily basis. Why won't everyone use some mode of public transportation every day?
It is certainly cheaper, safer and more convenient than hunting for a parking spot in the crush of city living. But for many people, driving brings a certain amount of prestige and independence. Not to mention that many of us have created jobs for private drivers, employing personal chauffeurs to run errands and cart us around. If we consider how many cars each household has, one would save so much in petrol and toll charges, not to mention servicing, if we simply took the bus.
There have been times when I have called for a cab to drive me somewhere, especially if it's a long distance or if I don't feel like driving. Each time the cab driver has always asked me the same question: "Where are you from?"
It seems to me that not many Emiratis use taxis, which amazes the taxi driver even more. So I guess I also fall into the category of not using public transportation in my own hometown.
Even when the metro came along, I rode it only because it was cool.
Across the UAE transportation officials are preparing plans to broaden our public transport option. To be successful, however, there should be awareness and education campaigns to encourage people from a young age to use public transportation and embed it as part of their lifestyle.
One way to encourage public transportation is to have schools take their students on school trips, not by private bus but by using public transportation. Adults could be encouraged to use public transportation by giving them a reward card just like the ones given out in coffee shops for every cab ride they take or every bus ride.
Another scheme could be to introduce five new people to the public transportation system for three months and win petrol for your car.
A few creative ideas could get us all to think better about how we move around our cities. This type of behaviour should not be reserved for holidays alone.
Aida Al Busaidy is a social affairs columnist and former co-host of a Dubai television show
On Twitter: @AidaAlB