UAE | Traffic and Transport

Peak-hour overcrowding on Metro irks many

Given the surging crowds on our trains during peak time, is it only a matter of time before Dubai Metro goes the Mumbai way, during rush hour?

  • By Muby Asger, Staff reporter
  • Published: 00:00 November 4, 2010
  • XPRESS

  • Image Credit: Xpress /Pankaj Sharma
  • The voices may differ, but the message is clear: 'It's overcrowded; RTA needs to make changes or I come home every evening smelling like a thousand different people.' "Convenience of commuters is our top priority," says Ramadan Abdullah, Director of Rail Operations at RTA.
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Dubai : It's 7.30am at Rashidiya Station and a few stray passengers board the Metro, find a comfy seat, plug in their earphones and hope to doze for the next hour or so, oblivious to the chaos that is about to come.

Five stations into the journey, at the Deira City Centre, the passengers board in the hundreds. By the time the train reaches Khalid Bin Al Waleed station, people are standing shoulder to shoulder, or "mouth to mouth", as one man puts it.

Johann Smith, a businessman who travels to DIFC (Dubai International Financial Centre) daily, admits that while it isn't a dog-eat-dog situation, he sees it heading that way soon. "At the moment, no one pushes and shoves. They stand alone in their misery, with beady eyes looking out for the first available seat."

Smith points out to the predominantly Indian and Filipino commuters who all carry the same blank-eyed gaze. Laxmi Chauhan, an Indian woman no taller than five feet, complains loudly.

"It's the same story every day. Because of my height and the lack of space in the compartments, I always have someone's armpit in my face."

On a train with 142 seats and a maximum capacity of 897 there are well over 1,000 passengers.

Welcome to the world of rush hour travel on Dubai Metro.

Since the launch on September 9 last year, 30 million passengers have commuted on the Metro. But is the Metro ready to handle the extra load since the opening of five new stations in October?

The feedback from rush hour Metro users is ambiguous. With an expected 170,000 expected to ride per day by the end of 2010, the general consensus is that RTA needs to make some changes if they want to accommodate so many on a daily basis. Despite RTA's assurance of having increased the frequency of trains to handle the extra load, passengers who brave Dubai's rush hour beg to differ.

Women and children

"I've noticed women and children have to stand through their journey, while there are men all around them sitting comfortably," says Jane D'Costa, an Indian secretary. "On the odd lucky day, there'll be a gentleman who offers me his seat. Normally, most people stand cramped, waiting for passengers to get off so they can get a precious seat, if only for a few minutes."

Angolan mum Maria Rui, who boards daily from Union, the largest station capable of handling up to 22,000 passengers per hour, disagrees. "Although most people don't offer me a seat, I've noticed that when there is a spare seat available, the majority of men allow the women on board first choice to take the seat. Filipino men are the most chivalrous."

RTA says 22 trains run during peak hours and 16 during regular hours. The frequency varies on weekdays and peak hours and ranges from eight to six minutes. Service frequency is 10 minutes from 9pm to 11 pm from Saturday to Wednesday, eight minutes on Thursday and Friday, 10 minutes from 11pm to 12 midnight, and eight minutes on Fridays.

Despite these changes, passengers say that the only change they've noticed is the increase in the number of people on each train. Ravi Bhandari, an Indian financial controller boards the Metro at 8.30am from Khalid Bin Al Walid station.

"As new stations keep opening, the number of people on board each train keeps increasing. We've already reached bursting point and RTA needs to increase frequency to accommodate this crowd.

Also, put a restriction on the number of people on a train. It's maddening to travel on one toe while hanging on for dear life to whatever or whoever I can get hold of," he says. Bhandari's frustration has led him to consider investing in a car, just so he can "sit in peace on the way to Jebel Ali every morning."

If Bhandari does that, it would go against the very grain of what RTA is trying desperately to achieve: to get people off the roads and onto the Metros.

On November 1, RTA offered free rides for Nol card holders. Earlier, it plastered 7,000 cars with magnets featuring images of fried eggs. The magnet had a clear message: "it's a cool 20 degrees C on the Metro'.

"That's all well and good," says Indian Mary-Divya Thomas. "But how do they expect to fit so many more people into a space that's already overcrowded?"

Packed to capacity

And yet, despite being packed like sardines in a can, commuters are still making the trip, day after day. "What other choice do I have?" asks Filipina nurse Karen Sabiniano. "I have to make a daily commute from Bur Dubai to Shaikh Zayed Road. Taxis are too expensive. The trains are overcrowded, but I'm not really paying for luxury here."

By 9.30am, the Metro is nearly empty. Come 5pm, however, the commotion begins all over again - except the crowds seem to have multiplied in numbers. Swedish mum Annika Lundgren says she only travels in the women's carriage since the crowds are even more maddening in the other compartments.

"Rock concerts look deserted in comparison to the hordes of passengers on this train." Lundgren, who boarded at Business Bay station, said riding during peak hour was a mistake.

"Since I don't drive, I figured I'd hop on the Metro. Never again. If only someone had warned me that I'd be nearly crushed to death for the duration of the journey, I'd have paid for a taxi ride home. I'd even have walked home, rather than be stuck in this mess." True to her word, she got down at the Financial Centre station.

The voices may differ, but the message is clear: ‘It's overcrowded; RTA needs to make changes or I come home every evening smelling like a thousand different people.' "Convenience of commuters is our top priority," says Ramadan Abdullah, Director of Rail Operations at RTA.

Rush hour commuters can only hope.

Comments (49)

  1. Added 14:32 November 6, 2010

    Common sense would suggest that the frequency of trains should be every two-three minutes during peak hour. Why can't RTA implement that?

    Mayola, DXB, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 08:41 November 5, 2010

    Its no problem if its too crowded during rush hour. It should be like that because its rush hour. The real problem is that one cannot breath comfortably. The RTA should address the issue of smelly passengers. RTA and the government should address this issue and launch a hygiene campaign by informing and educated people on the importance of hygiene and personal care.

    anne, kurtis, Afghanistan

  3. Added 23:29 November 4, 2010

    There is no point moaning about rush hour, this is something that happens in any metropolitan city. Its just a matter of time once people get used to the system. Because people are more conservative in the UAE, they find it difficult in the beginning. Cities like London where the tube system is still a 100 per cent success always face rush hour issues. There is a limit to what the authorities can do. Having said that, it doesn't mean they don't have to take care of the facility. What matters is how the people deal with the situation. One has to bear in mind that no one can make everyone 100 per cent satisfied. So lets be happy with the kind of service we receive.

    charles, london, United Kingdom

  4. Added 23:16 November 4, 2010

    Yet another irksome point during rush hour is the lack of handles or overhead rods at strategic points where people are forced to stand. It is amply clear that the design of the coaches was primarily for aesthetics and not for practical mass transit use.

    Kapil Tandon, Dubai, Afghanistan

  5. Added 19:29 November 4, 2010

    I use the metro at 8am in the morning and then again at 3pm. I find it absolutely crowded in the morning and the odour of people is not pleasant. Perhaps the RTA should install air fresheners in the compartments. Another thing that irks me is that commuters do not wait for people to exit the train before entering; they just stampede in.

    Blank, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 17:54 November 4, 2010

    Of course there is overcrowding since every one wants to go in the same direction at the same time. Its really not in the hands of the RTA, I really do not understand what the commuters expect by way of solution?

    yasmin, sharjah , Afghanistan

  7. Added 17:02 November 4, 2010

    I feel that the Metro has been the best thing RTA has ever done. Yes it gets crowded at times, but its a hundred times better than earlier days, when the only affordable means of transport were buses. Now people don't have to wait for hours. Traffic or no traffic, you'll always be on time. Also you will not smell of sweat, which used to be a common feature in the pre-Metro days. All I would say is that RTA should definitely increase the frequency of the Metro during peak ours, and also run the metro till 1am or 2am during weekends.

    Sarim, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  8. Added 15:20 November 4, 2010

    I suggest RTA must decrease the interval between trains during rush hour.

    hope, dubai, Afghanistan

  9. Added 15:00 November 4, 2010

    Hello from Paris to all XPRESS/Gulf News readers and RTA commuters, I hope the RTA will indeed be able to improve its rush-hour service, but your article made me smile. As a public transportation user in Paris (and other big cities earlier in my life), these situations you are describing are just plain normal to me. I don't think anybody likes to be cramped with hundreds of other people (I'm a short woman like one of the ladies referred to in the article and find it hard to breathe while most people surrounding me are taller, not to mention some embarrassing situations where I found myself sandwiched between two gentle (or not so gentle) men, but I am afraid you just can't avoid it. That's when your capability to show consideration and kindness for fellow passengers really matters, and makes a difference in your daily life. If it can be of comfort, imagine rush hour in the Paris metro on a strike day, when you've waited two or three times more than usual, and the incoming metro is already packed to capacity... At least, I don't think there are strikes in Dubai! I promise next time I come [to Dubai] Ill take the Metro during rush-hour, and will tell you how I find it.

    Louise, Paris, France

  10. Added 14:22 November 4, 2010

    The goal is achieved. That's good news. RTA have to finetune the system, so that it encourages more people to use the Metro. I have a suggestion for RTA - the number of 'grips or handle' have to be increased inside the train, so that all people are safe and comfortable. Due to shortage of grips between the doors, most people prefer to stand close to the door, thus the crowd is not evenly spread across the train.

    Hanif Mohammed, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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