Traffic congestion in Dubai is worse than in any other regional city. The emirate also faces a shortage of parking space. Conversely, Dubai stands out as the most pioneering city in the Middle East when it comes to offering solutions to traffic debacles.
According to a study conducted by GulfTalent.com, the average return journey to and from work takes around an hour and 45 minutes in Dubai. Yet, Cairo, traditionally noted for its hectic traffic congestion, came second with some 12 minutes behind Dubai.
Still, residents of Sharjah who work in Dubai suffer from a more acute commuting time, an average of two hours and 44 minutes for the return journey. However, Sharjah residents who work and live in the emirate, require an hour and eight minutes to and from work places.
Besides Dubai and Cairo, the survey covered Sharjah, Doha, Dammam, Beirut, Kuwait, Amman, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Manama, Khobar and Jeddah. Strangely enough, the survey failed to cover other major cities in the region notably Damascus.
Conversely, the western Saudi city of Jeddah emerged as the best requiring average commuting time of 46 minutes from home to work and back. The eastern Saudi town of Khobar followed Jeddah by requiring an average of 47 minutes commuting for the return journey.
GulfTalent carried out the study in May using a sample of 5,000 professional in 14 cities in the Arab world. The same study found that 44 per cent of respondents complaining of shortage of parking space in Dubai.
The capital city of Abu Dhabi came second with 40 per cent of professionals driving to work complaining about shortage of parking space. On the other hand, Saudi cities of Dammam and Jeddah emerged the best, with complaints from 21 and 24 per cent of respondents, respectively.
Interestingly, the study attributed part of the congestion problem to development projects taking places notably within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Blessed with spiralling oil revenues in the last few years, GCC governments have opted to invest heavily in infrastructure projects, in turn partly contributing to worsening traffic congestion. The same holds true for private sector investors who are tirelessly coming up with new business development initiatives.
Unlike most other regional cities, Dubai authorities are noted for exploring solutions to traffic problem.
For one, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) affected a toll system at the start of July. Known as 'Salik', or Arabic for a clear road, the scheme imposes a Dh4 toll every time a vehicle passes through toll gates located at Al Garhoud Bridge and Al Barsha Gate. A maximum of Dh24 in a single day can be charged to one vehicle. But annual cost could reach as high as Dh8,760.
RTA officials argue, convincingly or otherwise, that the system intends to reduce traffic jams, encourage car pooling and generate revenue for the government. Revenue for 2008, first full year of Salik, is put at Dh600 million. Trouble is fees are imposed 24 hours a day and seven days a week rather than just at peak times.
Still, the emirate's most ambitious solution scheme should come in force in about two years' time. The first phase of Dubai Metro is scheduled to commence in September 2009 with introduction of the 'Red Line' to be followed by the 'Green Line' in March 2010. Altogether, Dubai Metro will operate via 47 stations, carrying some 250,000 commuters per day.
Dubai residents have to cope with traffic congestion for a few more years after which they should have a reliable mass transit system in place.
- The writer is a Member of Parliament in Bahrain.