Almost one year since opening, Dubai's metro is on track to meet the expectations of its creators despite doubts that the cosmopolitan city's citizens could easily be wooed away from the roads and onto rails.
More than 23m people have ridden the metro since it began operations on September 9, 2009. According to the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), Dubai's public transport agency, the daily average number of passengers increased from 35,000 in the last months of 2009 to the present level of 110,000.
Though still short of the 140,000 passengers per day projected for the metro's Red Line, the steady increase suggests that the mode of transport is rapidly gaining acceptance and that, once the remaining stations are functioning, this user target will be met and exceeded.
According to RTA board chairman and executive director Mattar Al Tayer, the metro project is clearly yielding results.
"A larger number of people are using public transport, whenever and wherever possible, leaving their cars at home," Al Tayer told local media at the beginning of August.
The metro network has had an impact that extends throughout the economy. According to a recent study by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the recent strong growth in the emirate's retail sector has been in part due to the improved access to major shopping centres provided by the metro.
Combined with the easing of property prices and rental costs, the improved public transport network may add to the attractions enticing some expatriate workers back to Dubai from neighbouring emirates such as Sharjah, where they had moved to benefit from lower costs of living.
Another benefit attributed to the metro is the reduction in costs resulting from lower road usage, with an RTA study reporting that up to $1bn is saved annually from decongesting the highways and byways, speeding the flow of traffic and improving efficiencies.
Despite these successes, the metro project has had its share of problems – perhaps understandable with a project of this enormity. Indeed, when the 52km Red Line, running from Al Rashidiya to Jebel Ali, opened last September, only 10 of the 29 stations came into service. Over the following months, other Red Line stations were brought on line, with the final links in the network expected in October.
The second part of the metro project, the 20-km Green Line, linking the Dubai Festival City site with Al Qusais, is behind schedule. Having initially been set to start operations in March this year, just a month earlier the RTA announced that services on the Green Line would not commence until August 2011.
Work on the Green Line is, however, progressing. During late July and August, its signalling and safety systems were tested and trial runs of trains were carried out. One RTA official told local media that the line might start operations earlier than the projected date next year.
When the Red and Green Lines are both in operation, it will give Dubai the world's longest automated metro network, surpassing Canada's Vancouver Skytrain. More importantly, the rapid transit grid, with its 47 stations and integrated links with Dubai's expanding feeder bus network, will connect business, residential and recreational districts over a wide area serving most of the emirate's population.
To date, according to the TRA, some 4.8m passengers have made use of the bus routes that provide feeder services to the existing Red Line metro stations. Moreover, as additional stations open on the Red Line and the Green Line joins the public transport network, passenger numbers on the feeder bus service are expected to increase.
The TRA expects the Metro to generate up to $4.6bn within the next ten years, but as a public service and as a boost to the local economy, Dubai's metro is already adding value and will continue to do so in the future.