x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Metro upgrades on the right track

A year and a half after operations began, RTA officials are examining ways to better serve riders.

Dubai commuters enjoy far greater freedom of movement thanks to the Metro. The rail service has also been responsible for reducing road traffic. Above, people ride the Metro's Green Line. Jaime Puebla / The National
Dubai commuters enjoy far greater freedom of movement thanks to the Metro. The rail service has also been responsible for reducing road traffic. Above, people ride the Metro's Green Line. Jaime Puebla / The National

DUBAI // After two-and-a-half years of operation, Metro officials are looking at ways to improve the Dh28 billion system.

Transport chiefs are considering opening both the Green and Red lines earlier on Fridays next year and setting up an out-of-hours shuttle to the airport, said Ahmad Al Hammadi, the chief executive of the Roads and Transport Authority's rail agency.

"We have to collect all our operations and maintenance records and see how the system performs," he said. "Once we get the records broken down we [will] know exactly how the system performs. Depending on the findings, we can add more services and add more hours."

Commuters could see the changes take effect from next year.

The Metro runs daily from 6am until 1am except on Fridays, when the first train leaves Al Rashidiya Station at 1pm.

"It is a very sophisticated system," Mr Al Hammadi said. "It requires a lot of attention. Everything we do has to go through a change management procedure to make sure everything is in place: the operations, maintenance and manpower required."

More than 3,000 people are involved in the running of the 74.6-kilometre system.

The RTA opened the 22.5km Green Line in September 2011, two years after the inaugural Red Line opened.

"The Red Line was a very good exercise for the Green Line opening," Mr Al Hammadi said. "Some of the staff who trained on the Red Line were transferred to the Green Line opening, offering their previous experience. It minimised the learning curve."

When the Red Line opened, it recorded 1.2 million passengers a month with only 10 stations open. Now all 47 stations on both lines are open and the RTA has averaged 8.6m passengers a month.

The most successful destinations, he said, were the shopping malls.

One of the goals of the Metro was to encourage residents to use public transport to reduce road traffic.

Mr Al Hammadi said a study carried out on Sheikh Zayed Road found a reduction in traffic of at least 15 per cent.

Transport chiefs, he added, have a five-year plan to get more cars off the roads.

"Increasing the street parking fees is one of the policies and we've already increased the car registration fees," he said. "This will encourage people to use public transportation."

A survey in 2011 found that 20 per cent of Metro passengers were women and children.

"The decision to have a separate cabin for women and children has really paid off," said Mr Al Hammadi.

Rima Davidson, the mother of two boys, age 5 and 2, said she used the women's carriage all the time.

"I wouldn't get on any other part of the train if I had a choice. It has a nice atmosphere on the carriage and I don't mind if I am standing or sitting. The kids are always happy on it as there is always room for them. I could take a taxi to the mall but this is just as easy."

Travelling from the Marina, Mrs Davidson said, the Mall of the Emirates was the closest, easiest option.

"It is like a day out for the older boy, Danny. He loves looking at the city from a different perspective," she said.

Yet the world's longest driverless metro system has not been without its problems, even if they have been out of the control of the RTA.

In December, passengers were asked to disembark because of a power failure, after Dubai Electricity and Water Authority contractors hit a power line.

"When the problem happened at station No 1 we had stations 2 and 3's power and that took over the running," said Mr Al Hammadi.

The RTA's service recovery manual, handbook of 22 problematic scenarios, came into play. It helps employees activate buses and employ extra routes to get passengers to their destinations.

"People should be always on the move," said Mr Al Hammadi.

There will be no major upgrades to the network in the immediate future because the Metro was designed to accommodate a growing population for the next 20 years.

"Right now we have 79 trains and this is more than enough," said Mr Al Hammadi.

eharnan@thenational.ae