x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Lorry ban brings quiet celebration

Business owners in parts of Abu Dhabi say the prohibition during rush hours has eliminated the crush of heavy traffic.

A pedestrian crosses the road in front of a lorry at the entrance to Abu Dhabi Mall.
A pedestrian crosses the road in front of a lorry at the entrance to Abu Dhabi Mall.

ABU DHABI // Afternoon traffic in the Tourist Club area flowed freely yesterday for the first time since the Al Salam Street construction began, merchants said, crediting a police ban on lorries during rush hour.

"The road is empty. This is good news today," said Kussai al Najjad, who runs the Ettihad Antiques shop across from Abu Dhabi Mall. Mr al Najjad, 33, of Syria, said he was able to drive to his home on Airport Road for a midafternoon break at 1.30pm. The trip took less than 10 minutes yesterday, he said. "Usually, this can be 25 to 30 minutes," he said. "I'm very surprised." By 2.30pm, the road in front of the mall was mostly free of the construction vehicles, cement mixers and 18-wheelers that typically clog the right-hand lanes there.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Interior barred all vehicles heavier than 2.5 tonnes from the streets from 6am to 8am, and from 1pm to 3pm. The rule, which is meant to ease congestion in the capital, also applies to a section near Al Raha Beach. A half-hour before the mid-afternoon prohibition began, Mr al Najjad blamed the ready-mix vehicles and semitrailers ferrying between Al Salam Street and Al Reem Island for slowing neighbourhood traffic to a crawl.

"The big lorries go slow," he said. "When you have a big lorry in front of you, sometimes maybe it can let us wait for 10 minutes because you go from signal to signal." At noon, 61 heavy vehicles drove through the area within 15 minutes. But by 1.45pm, only seven lorries were seen during the same amount of time. Police were patrolling the area, though officers were not seen ticketing any drivers. At 2pm, Mr al Najjad's neighbours at the Mongolian Chinese Restaurant agreed that the traffic outside was noticeably quieter.

"Always we can hear from the restaurant the lorry braking sound, again and again," said Shafeeque Kutty, the restaurant's manager. "Usually this time is a very busy time. Now we hear almost nothing." Mr Kutty said customers had begun complaining that deliveries from the restaurant were taking too long. He hoped the new regulations would encourage more patrons to drop in. Meanwhile, construction companies and contractors said the rules had not tangled logistics too badly.

Roger De Beaufort, the logistics manager for the Laing O'Rourke construction company in Al Raha Beach, was optimistic. Not only would the prohibition cut down on fuel use and maintenance costs, he said, but there would be a positive environmental impact as well. "If a lorry sits in a jam for one hour, that's Dh9," he said. "The overall carbon footprint will also be reduced, so there is an environmental benefit."

One consequence, he noted, might be a sudden rush of lorry traffic between 8am and 11am. "But from our point of view, the workers will be on site and able to handle it," he said. Mr De Beaufort estimated that 3,000 vehicles - many of them lorries - come and go at the western precinct in Al Raha Beach daily, delivering food and heavy equipment. "This ban will force companies into organising proper delivery schedules," he said.

Because construction continues around the clock, he suggested delivering at night. Radha Krishnan, the purchasing manager at the Abu Dhabi General Transport Company, noted that the afternoon prohibition of lorries occurred during the mandatory afternoon break. The morning ban on lorries is more problematic, however, he said. "The climate is good for work early and workers' spirit is good," Mr Krishnan said. "They start work at 6am, and that is when the material arrives at the sites. How will they work without material? Everything depends on the morning time."

Police said violators could face fines of up to Dh1,000 (US$270) and also have their lorries impounded for a week. Repeat offenders could receive another Dh1,000 fine and a two-week impoundment. The driver would also acquire eight points on his licence upon each violation. mkwong@thenational.ae tspender@thenational.ae