Although Dubai has placed an emphasis on public transport, road congestion and private vehicle use remains a challenge for the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA). The share of mass transit in public mobility rose from 6% in 2006 to 13% in 2013, but the residents of the emirate still rely heavily on private transport.
Traditionally, private vehicle ownership in Dubai has been high compared to other global cities. In 2007, for example, the city had a car ownership rate of 541 cars per 1000 people, compared to rates of 444 cars per 1000 people in New York, 345 cars per 1000 people in London and 111 cars per 1000 people in Singapore. The RTA expects Dubai’s population to expand by 296% in the six years prior to Expo 2020, and that the number of private cars on the emirate’s roads will reach 1.5m in that same period. It is hardly surprising, then, that road construction and maintenance is a high priority. This is not simply a means of providing the capacity to meet the additional volume of vehicles on the road, but also to link up new residential communities and commercial developments that are absorbing this population growth.
In September 2014, for example, a Dh300m ($81.7m) road was constructed to link the 5-km stretch between Oud Metha and the fast-developing Business Bay area. The road, which has two tunnels and two bridges, also plugs into the key Dubai developments of Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall. This brought to fruition one of many projects currently in the RTA pipeline aimed at improving connectivity and easing congestion in the city. For example, the RTA is investing between Dh1.7bn ($462.7m) and Dh2bn ($544.4m) on two roads in the Dubai Creek area.
The first, the Godolphin project, will see the construction of roads, bridges and underpasses over 30 months in the Godolphin and Zabeel neighbourhoods of the city. The second is the construction of Al Ittihad Bridge, which will replace the floating bridge across Dubai Creek. The new piece of infrastructure will have a capacity to support 24,000 vehicles per day. These inner-city infrastructure projects will be complemented by intercity projects improving traffic flows between the UAE’s two major cities. The major project in this regard is the Dh2.1bn ($571.6m) Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway project that is expected to be complete by 2017. The development is necessary to meet rising vehicle use, with traffic on the inter-city route expected to grow from the current 700 vehicles per hour during peak times to 12,000 vehicles per hour in 2030. As such, the new project should improve traffic flows on the existing E11.
The authorities have not only been using hard infrastructure to improve traffic flows. In 2007 the RTA introduced toll roads under the brand Salik. Taking stock four years after their introduction, the RTA was confident that the introduction of tollbooths had produced the desired effect. According to their study, the average speed on the Sheikh Zayed Road increased by 30% in the three and a half years since the Salik introduction, while traffic levels were down 45% on Al Garhoud bridge and 30% on Al Maktoum bridge. Although the effects of the economic downturn may have been a contributing factor, the government is pushing technological intervention as a means of improving the driving environment in the emirate. Indeed, as the authorities emphasise Dubai’s credentials as a smart city, the use of information technology in transport has become a primary concern.
The government has already launched 150 e-services, 23 of which utilise smartphones to help deal with congestion. Such technology allows drivers to access information on traffic flows, accidents and tolling information in real time. Other services include smart parking, allowing customers to find vacant parking spots, and smart taxis allowing customers to book, pay and track taxis on their smart phones. Such developments will help build on RTA hard infrastructure projects that are improving traffic flows and the driving experience in the emirate. The efforts to deploy more smart technologies should also create substantial opportunities for private players to invest Dubai’s transport industry.
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