Interview: Falah Mohammad Al Ahbabi

How can private involvement in the sector be boosted, and what area offers the greatest scope for public-private partnerships (PPPs)?

FALAH MOHAMMAD AL AHBABI: We consider the private sector to be a key partner in our mission to deliver and manage sustainable development in Abu Dhabi. This is not only from a financial perspective, but because of the technical and operational expertise that private companies are able to offer.

There are many ways we can work together, with the Capital Surface Transport Master Plan supporting the creation of PPPs to deliver projects that meet clearly defined criteria and are at an advanced stage of planning. This is in line with the recently implemented Law No. 2 of 2019, which regulates PPPs in Abu Dhabi, and the aims of the government’s Ghadan 2021 development accelerator programme, which supports local and international investment opportunities for the private sector.

Transport infrastructure often requires substantial long-term capital investment, which makes it a good fit for delivery through the PPP model, where contract periods may last more than 20 or 30 years. We are looking at public transport and road projects in particular, and have already begun awarding contracts in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) in its role as the emirate’s central authority for facilitating PPP projects. In March 2020 we awarded Tatweer a 12-year contract to replace approximately 43,000 streetlights with energy-efficient LED lights, enhancing road safety and saving enough energy to provide power to around 8000 homes each year.

Looking ahead, Dh10bn ($2.7bn) of infrastructure projects in Abu Dhabi have been earmarked for delivery through PPPs, not only in transportation but also in the education and municipal sectors, among others. We have identified a number of large capital road and public transport projects that meet our criteria and are potentially suitable for delivery through the model, and we are working with ADIO and our other partners in preparation to take them to the market at the appropriate time.

What modes of transport are being considered to ensure mobility, and how are such developments expected to benefit the public?

AL AHBABI: The DMT is tasked with implementing the established transport strategy for the emirate, as set out in the surface transport master plans for each region. The key goal of the strategy is to move away from the current reliance on private cars and towards a more balanced transport system that offers sustainable alternative options for travel. The core of this system will be a fully integrated public transport system with rail, metro, light rapid transit, bus and maritime modes, providing accessible and affordable travel for everyone.

While planning is under way for the mass transit aspects of the strategy, the bus system is being expanded, with the number of buses in the fleet set to increase from 543 to 870 by the end of 2020. The majority of these vehicles will be eco-friendly. Other ongoing initiatives include the implementation of bus lanes, expected to be completed before the end of 2020; large-scale improvements to bus stops and shelters; and a programme to build and renovate a number of new stations and depots.

Other modes of transport have also been introduced in order to provide increased mobility options, such as car sharing and electric scooters. These have proven to be very popular.

The new toll road system will be an integral part of Abu Dhabi’s transport network and aims to reduce reliance on private vehicles while encouraging the use of public transport and carpooling. It is expected to help change travel behaviour to facilitate the introduction of mass transit systems in the future.