Hybrid taxis are a common sight on UAE roads Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

With wide-scale urbanisation and a rapidly growing population, the UAE’s transport sector is poised to expand exponentially over the next five years as authorities attempt to cater to these twin challenges — all with an eye on sustainable development.
Projects in the country’s transport sector for 2015 alone are valued at $25 billion (Dh91.82 billion), according to Fleming Gulf, organisers of Natrans Arabia, a flagship three-stream conference and exhibition for the region’s transportation sector.

The inaugural event, which is held under the patronage of Dr Abdullah Bel Haif Al Nuaimi, UAE Minister of Public Works and Chairman of the Board of Directors at Federal Authority for Land and Maritime Transport, takes place from Sunday to Tuesday at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

"The rail sector has accounted for more than 50 per cent of the value of projects awarded," says Fleming Gulf Exhibitions Director Alexander Heuff. "Growth will be dominated by the rail transport infrastructure sector closely followed by new metros lines, particularly in Dubai, bridges and tunnels systems, valued at $30 billion by 2020."

In Abu Dhabi alone, over $10 billion has been allocated on infrastructure this year. As a whole, Fleming Gulf research shows, GCC rail, road and maritime projects cited for completion over the next five years are worth an estimated $422 billion and completed within the next five years. Through three separate dedicated streams, each of which focuses on an area of specialist transportation covering rail, road and maritime, Natrans Arabia will attempt to examine the GCC’s integrated transport strategy — looking at transport technology and infrastructure in the GCC and the UAE in particular.

"We are excited about today’s progress in the region and even more enthusiastic seeing what future holds for us," says Heuff. "Driverless cars, smart safety systems and trains travelling faster than a plane are just few exciting technologies you can see at Natrans."

The future is here

He expects the event, which he describes as a unique opportunity for suppliers and transport specialists to meet and network, to show the way for future development in the sector.

"The UAE will inevitably see more traffic on its roads as population growth creates demand for more transportation infrastructure," he says. "Coupled with climate change concerns, all seven emirates must start rethinking the very nature of existing transportation systems."

He explains how authorities are studying developments such as connected and autonomous vehicles, alternative fuels, keyless fleet management and traffic analytics, as well as local zoning and planning policies that support transit-oriented development.
Natrans Arabia is divided into four themed zones to match the three conference streams, plus an extra zone showcasing intelligent transport systems and is expected to attract more than 2,000 trade visitors.

Running alongside is an exhibition where more than 80 companies will showcase their products and solutions as they seek business opportunities in this multibillion-dollar market. It includes players from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, India, Singapore, the US, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, China and the UK.

"As one of the leading urban public transport operators and maintainers globally, the Middle East is one of our key target markets due to the level of transport infrastructure being developed over the next decade," Stephen Webb, Director Middle East at RATP Dev Middle East, said in a statement about the company’s presence at the show.

Some insiders remain wary of too much optimism. Among them is Yu Tao, President and CEO of China State Construction Engineering Corporation Middle East, the regional operation of the world’s largest construction company and top home builder.

The contractor has secured mandates of more than Dh16 billion in project value.
Although optimistic about prospects in the region and bigger projects in the coming years, he noted that the recovery of the infrastructure sector appears slower than in the building sector. Dubai’s ambitious water canal project, which is one of the larger infrastructure and transport projects currently under way, is not enough to keep contractors busy, he told Deloitte’s GCC Powers of Construction 2015 report, although his company appears to be taking a proactive approach.

"We expect funding to be the ongoing challenge when looking at the extent of infrastructure projects planned and under way; that is why we have developed a unique proposition for our clients, which is to offer project funding or export credit opportunities," the report quoted him as saying.

Stay sustainable

While market economics will doubtless be discussed at the event, other issues under the scanner will be the rise of sustainable and energy-efficient technological solutions.
"The Emirates is on the forefront of cutting-edge technology and green energy," Heuff says. "I’m particularly excited to see the most advanced transportation system in the world, the Hyperloop transit solution, on display. A core team from some of the world's finest organisations , including Boeing, Airbus, NASA, Harvard, UCLA and Stanford, is building the train with a top speed of 766mph.

"One to look out for is Toyota — it has its new hybrid super taxi on display. Abu Dhabi police will also be showcasing its new Smart Traffic Centre, red light and speed enforcement systems, smart towers project, and road construction/truck permission software, which will culminate in our Road Safety Awareness Day on Tuesday," adds Heuff.

The road safety event is part of a series of events associated with the conference-led exhibition.