x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Capital unveils public transport masterplan

A 20-year strategy aims to persuade motorists in Abu Dhabi to leave cars at home by providing stops within a short walking distance.

ABU DHABI // Everybody living in the capital will be a five-minute walk from some form of public transport within 20 years, under a masterplan revealed yesterday by the Department of Transport. The DoT's ambitious proposals to transform the way people move around the capital, known as the Surface Transport Master Plan, envisage four five-year stages in which residents will be steadily encouraged to abandon their cars in favour of other means of travel.

The masterplan, which was first commissioned in February last year to implement recommendations in the Urban Planning Council's Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, expects that in the next 20 years, between 25 and 35 per cent of residents will be travelling regularly by public transport, using a smart card to pay once for a journey involving several changes. In metropolitan Abu Dhabi, that would be more than a million passengers per day on average, should the population grow as predicted.

The plans were unveiled to the media yesterday in a hi-tech presentation at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. They include high-speed metro lines linked to 340km of tram lines with stations every 500 metres, as well as a network of buses, water taxis and ferries. A major transport terminal will be established in the Central Business District and another in the new Capital City district. Provisions for park and ride stations will be established in areas outside the island. A 590km regional passenger railway, travelling at speeds of up to 400kph, will connect Abu Dhabi to Al Gharbia, Al Ain and to the border with Dubai.

A second rail line for freight - part of the larger planned GCC rail network, being developed separately by Union Rail - will help to reduce the number of lorries on the motorways. Additional roads will be built and existing ones improved. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, had been briefed on the plans, said the state news agency WAM. He remarked that thanks to the "wise directives" of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, the country had "managed to position itself in the world's map for transport".

Some of the proposals are bold, including one to make Hamdan Street and Saadiyat Island car-free zones by 2020 and the possibility of introducing taxes by 2030 that would be linked to exhaust emissions. Yesterday, however, motorists used to traffic jams and struggles to find parking spaces welcomed the news. Wala'a Mustafa, 23, is a recent graduate, and although she is Palestinian, she was born and raised in the UAE.

"To know that a public transportation point may be just a five-minute walk from me is wonderful, of course," she said. "Actually, for most of us, it is so much easier to leave our cars behind and rely on a good transportation system. "It will help me save money on petrol and car maintenance, and it will regulate my day better. I won't have to leave so early just to make sure I find parking; parking is such a huge problem in this city and providing alternative transportation can help us to deal with that."

Houssam Chahine, 34 and Lebanese, has been living in the country for 2½ years, and strongly welcomes the idea of a public transportation system, but only if it is thought out properly. "I would say this is an ambitious plan, of course, and I personally would definitely use public transportation if it were feasible," said Mr Chahine. "But I do worry about the feasibility of co-ordinating something like this, and understanding all the factors that go into a plan of this magnitude."

The DoT has already begun to move ahead with some initiatives, such as calling in February for bids to complete a feasibility study for the 131km metro. Those proposals are expected to be submitted at the end of May. Abdullah al Otaiba, chairman of the department, yesterday refused to disclose the estimated cost of the project but said that in spite of the global economic downturn, the department had been given the green light for the project. "We are watching the situation but we have a mandate not to stop rolling," he said.

"Because of the current situation of the market right now and the costs of finance it is not logical to give any numbers. It is an umbrella project for all projects in Abu Dhabi in the future. With the population of the emirate expected to expand from two million in 2008 to 10 million by 2030, the department predicts that if nothing is done roads will reach capacity by 2015 and average travel times will increase from about 45 minutes per trip to 4½ hours.

@Email:mchung@thenational.ae