Mattar Al Tayer
Mattar Al Tayer, Director-General, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), discusses the future of transport in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution at the World Government Summit in Dubai. Image Credit: Atiq ur Rehman/Gulf News

Dubai: Driverless cars, air taxis and unibikes. This is what the future of UAE's transport looks like.

Mattar Mohammad Al Tayer, Director General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Director of Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), spoke at the World Government Summit today (Monday), laying out the achievements of the RTA so far and what the country's plans are, especially for the Expo 2020.

He spoke about the Government of Dubai's vision and how in other parts of the world private sector channelised change.

However, in the UAE, the government drives change.

Driving change

"Yesterday, many speakers [at the World Government Summit] talked about how trillions of dollars are spent on research and development. However, with the UAE, the situation is different. Here, the government is the driving factor of change," he said.

"In order to be a leader of change, you have to have a clear vision, foresight and capability to manage changes," he added.

Al Tayer, however, specified that this did not meant that the private sector is not part of the innovation drives.

He also spoke about how car ownership put a strain on infrastructure and the environment.

1 million cars from Sharjah

"In Dubai, there are 3.5million people. We have more than one million cars coming in from Sharjah, which means that many people are accessing Dubai on a daily basis. The overall population can be estimated to be as high as five million. To service so many people you have to have infrastructure," he said.

He mentioned RTA initiatives — like ekar and Udrive  which offer residents the chance to use the car and leave it at their destination, this helps reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

He added that plans were being considered to reduce the cars on the road further, with the aim of 25 per cent of commutes through the Metro.

"We could start a Metro to link together all the cities. We need to determine the start and finish point."

He also said the future of transport in the UAE will see changes in the nature of commuting with an increase in buses on demand ( from two in 2018 to 12 in 2030) and car sharing (from400 cars in 2018 to 1,400 in 2030). Dubai, which had issued a first of its kind guidebook on automated vehicles in 2018, had also entered into key partnerships with private players, including universities and the likes of Careem, to introduce several innovative measures, he added.

He said, “Dubai will host the Dubai World Congress, a first of its kind meet for self-driving transport in October 2019, in addition to the Dubai World Challenge.”

Al Tayer also touched upon RTA’s initiatives like E/N Ride, hybrid taxis, electric buses and electric taxis.

“Our initiatives have reduced fuel consumption by 285 million litres per year and carbondioxide emissions by 5,000 tons annually,” he added.

Vision

He added that His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, had laid out clear principles that defined the roadmap for the future.

"In 2019, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad published three documents in the book Qissati and they discussed mobility and the future," he said.

190211 dubai skypod
Delegates check out the Dubai Sky Pod Vehicle, the future of transportation in Dubai, at the Summit at Madinat Jumeirah. Image Credit: Atiq Ur Rehman /Gulf News

Planning for the New Year

Artificial intelligence has helped the RTA analyse millions of data inputs every day because of its new information hub — the Enterprise, Command and Control Centre (EC3).

Al Tayer spoke about how the more information one has about mobility, the more efficient one becomes through informed decision making.

"In the past, in Dubai, on New Year's Eve, police would gather around Dubai Mall to manage traffic. Now, thanks to the EC3, we can see what is happening anywhere in Dubai," he said.

“In September 2017, the UAE issued its strategy for 4IR. The focus was on nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, smart devices and digital transactions in all sectors,” he said, pointing to how mobility was an essential component of the plan.

He said a new centre, which will use artificial intelligence to meet its goals, is being set up in Al Barsha.

“The Al Barsha Traffic Management Centre will be ready by mid-2020, in time for EXPO 2020,” he said, noting that the smart, automated systems at the centre will not only have the capability to support the management of such mega events, but also address issues concerning traffic movement, besides accidents and emergencies, like never before.

Accepting AI takes courage

Al Tayer also spoke about how artificial intelligence can be met with resistance from public transport users.

"When we first launched the Metro, we had spent Dh30 billion on the project. However, the number of daily passengers was just 40,000 to 50,000. I went manic!

"When I asked why the number were so low, I was told that people are afraid of the driverless trains.

"So, I said: 'Just put drivers in and see!' Would you imagine, the numbers then went up to 120,000 daily. And today, without a driver, the (passenger) numbers are (around) 650,000 passengers a day," he said.

650,000

daily users of the Dubai Metro

He added that recently, when they ran a poll through their official Twitter account on whether people would use autonomous air taxis, 79 per cent said yes.

"This result made me so happy ... accepting artificial intelligence takes courage."

- With inputs from Shreya Bhatia, Readers Interactivity Journalist