x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Buses and trams 'are not just for the poor'

The UAE needs to move from being a car-dominated society and embrace the idea of a modern public transport system, transport chief says.

ABU DHABI // The perception that public transport is "only for poor people" must change if Abu Dhabi's new metro and tram system is to succeed, transport chiefs said yesterday.

The UAE needs to move from being a car-dominated society and embrace the idea of a modern public transport system, said Khalid Hashim, executive director of land transport at the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport.

"We need to find a way to change the perception of public transport for the new generations, beginning from school until they graduate and are at an age where they can make a choice of whether to purchase a vehicle or take public transport," he said.

Half of the UAE's residents have a car, one of the highest rates of vehicle ownership in the world.

Speaking on the final day of the 3rd International Association of Public Transport Mena Congress, Mr Hashim said heavy dependency on the car was part of the challenge faced by the public transport sector.

Alain Flausch, the secretary general of the association, said passengers were "the core of our business" and any new metro system must appeal to the public by being clean, efficient and comfortable.

He also pointed out that new technology for public transport was expensive, and must be shown to be financially viable. "If it's not reducing costs, then don't adopt it," he said.

Updated plans for public transport in Abu Dhabi were released on Tuesday. They include a metro, two light-rail tram lines and a bus rapid-transit loop. About 18km of metro line is expected to be running by 2020.

The thrust of the plans was decided after a series of analytical studies, said Hashim Al Hashimi, director of public transport in Abu Dhabi.

"We conducted several feasibility studies addressing the mobility of the plans and forecasting the future based on population growth," he said.

Studies also analysed the outcome of upgrading roads and dramatically increasing the number of buses, but the most cost-effective solution was to focus on a metro and tram network.

The first phase will focus on the northern part of Abu Dhabi island, where traffic congestion is at its highest. "It's very congested and fully built, so starting such a huge construction in an area like that will be very challenging, but there are always solutions," Mr Al Hashimi said.

Construction is expected to begin in two to three years, but exact details are not in place yet because the plans are still in the preliminary design phase.

The first phase is expected to run until 2030, but that is dependent on population growth. "In five years, if the population is higher than our expectations, we will definitely implement the second phase," Mr Al Hashimi said.

"Here in the UAE, and Abu Dhabi in particular, we have shown a strong commitment to public transport and we intend to keep up our goals of becoming one of the top world class cities."

molson@thenational.ae