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UAE Public Transport and Economic Development Research Paper

Public transport plays an essential role in the economic development of the United Arab Emirates. The public transport system determines the conditions for economic growth, increasing the competitiveness of the national economy and the quality of life of the population (Cox, 2013). The geographical features determine the priority role of transport in developing the competitive advantages of the country in terms of realizing its transit potential. Madakam and Ramaswamy (2016) state that access to safe and excellent transport services determine the efficiency of work and development of business and social spheres (Lees, Shin, & Morales, 2015). In this regard, the position of transport in the social and economic development of the country is determined by volume, cost, and quality characteristics of the level of transport services. Qualitative characteristics of the level of public transport services are associated with speed, timeliness, safety, and environmental friendliness.

Considering that the UAE is characterized by the growing number of people with the high-income, it becomes evident that there is a need to evaluate the possibility of their transportation by public transport (Niblock, 2015). The existing conditions for business development and tourism present a rather attractive area for the identified population, while traffic congestion becomes a serious problem (Wilson, 2013). For people engaged in business affairs, it is critical to move between two locations in a timely and comfortable manner. However, there is a need to determine to what extent public transport for the defined population would be contributing to the UAE’s economy.

Research question: if targeting high-income population in using public transportation, what is the potential impact on the infrastructure and economic development in the UAE?

In terms of the above research question, the following objectives are specified:

  • to review the UAE’s vision and strategic goals for further sustainable development;
  • to evaluate the needs and requirements of the target population for public transport;
  • to reveal public transport companies’ and the population’s opinions regarding the given issue.

Literature Review

Connections Between Infrastructure (Public Transport) and Economy

Public transport plays a rather essential role in the economy and generates numerous connections and processes within the infrastructure system. El Mallakh (2015) states that the researchers have taken steps and continue to explore this field both in the UAE and worldwide to create models that correctly reproduce such links in order to more accurately identify the impact of transport on the economy and that of the economic system on transportation services. At the same time, several factors have to be taken into account to align transport and space occupied by a country or a region, including the level of their development as a whole, the problems of ecology, the latest research in the field of creating new types of fuel, and so on.

Both public transport organizations and the government are to positively affect public transport system by investing in infrastructure and management of transport routes and target audiences. As shown by Leigh and Blakely (2017), there are various associations between transport and the economic growth, and the advancement of transport networks can promote the generation of positive concomitant effects. For instance, increased employment, passenger satisfaction, and traffic congestion reduction may be noted. (Lees et al., 2015). Nevertheless, it should be noted that there are also possible negative consequences such as an increase in emissions of harmful substances into the atmosphere, the number of congestion on the approaches to the main networks, etc. (Leigh & Blakely, 2017). Therefore, the link between public transport and economy needs to be explored in an in-depth manner.

The importance of a developed urban passenger transport infrastructure for the UAE’s economy is a lemma, a proven statement that is useful not as it is yet for proving other statements. Stubbs, Tyson, and Dalvi (2017) argue that investments in transport infrastructure are almost always perceived as an incentive for demand for economic growth and form considerable contribution to the economic development of regions as well as urban and rural settlements.

In particular, as it is clearly specified by Wilson (2013) in his study, investments in transport infrastructure lead to a significant decrease in the transport component at the final price of the goods moved between different locations, play an important role in reducing the level of economic imbalances between them (Stubbs et al., 2017). Furthermore, infrastructure development focused on public transport increases competitiveness in access to new markets, business, specialization, and cooperation, thus leading to an increase in labor productivity along with the creation of new competitive advantages (“Transportation for Expo 2020”, n.d.).

Sustainable Development of the UAE in Terms of Vision 2021 and Vision 2030

The UAE’s aspiration to sustainable development may be tracked based on global exhibitions and visions. Holding such great events as Expo 2020 and GITEX is only part of the overall strategy for the development and diversification of the economy for the coming decades. Before the first exhibition in the Middle East, Dubai is experiencing a construction boom n infrastructure and transport. World Expo will be held from October 20, 2020 to April 10, 2021, and it is expected that 25 million guests will visit the country within six months, of which more than 70 percent will arrive from abroad (“The Abu Dhabi economic vision 2030”, n.d.).

Thus, Expo 2020 will boast the largest share of foreign exhibitors in the history of the UAE. Her Excellency Rome Al Hashimi, Minister of State for International Cooperation and Managing Director of the organizational committee of Dubai Expo 2020, expects to hold a unique and unforgettable event of a global scale that plenty of people will want to visit (“The Abu Dhabi economic vision 2030”, n.d.). Al Hashimi, however, emphasizes that although Expo 2020 is undoubtedly an important milestone in the history of the UAE, it is only one of many elements of the overall strategy for the country’s long-term economic development.

At the same, GITEX is another noteworthy event that was held in 2017. On should mention aerotaxi from the German manufacturer Volocopter that looks like a mixture of a helicopter and a large drone, can lift two passengers into the air, and does not need to be controlled by a driver. Its maximum flight time is 30 minutes and the maximum speed is 100 kilometers per hour. More to the point, a self-propelled flying taxi is planned to be integrated into the city’s transport system – metro, buses, and taxis. The authorities of Dubai are aimed at making 25 percent of all transport in the city self-governing by 2030. And the beginning has already been laid as all the local subway trains run without a machinist.

The Expo 2020 and GITEX are only part of the government’s strategy for the development of the UAE until 2021 and 2030 aimed at diversifying the economy into a post-hydrocarbon era in order to transform the country into one of investment, trade, tourist, and transport centers (“United in ambition and determination”, n.d.). The plans assume further development of these directions with the goal of creating a completely diversified and advanced economy based on innovations.

Asif (2016) claims that according to the plan, by 2021, the UAE will have one of the most innovative economies, while huge amounts of money will be spent on research. The Dubai Industrial Development Strategy was adopted targeting 2030. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister, Vice-President of the UAE, and the ruler of Dubai, made an interesting statement that by 2030 a quarter of the buildings in Dubai will be built using 3D printing (Asif, 2016). In addition, the Emirate launched the Clean Energy Development Strategy, in which the planning horizon extends to 2050.

Currently, the United Arab Emirates has achieved high economic results due to the well-thought-out and far-sighted policy of the government (“United in ambition and determination”, n.d.). The overall economic growth of the United Arab Emirates for the period of 2017-2020 taking into account the projected figures for all Emirates is expected to be 3.5 percent (“Transportation for Expo 2020”, n.d.; Zahlan, 2016). In other words, the leadership of this relatively young Arab country keeps a stable course towards diversification of the national economy and confidently strives to achieve all the planned short-term and long-term goals.

Influx of High-Income Population and Transportation

The recent decades are marked by a sharp increase of the high-income population of Dubai and some other parts of the UAE. One should emphasize that not only Emirati citizens but also foreign investors and parents compose the mentioned category. The influx of the population having high-incomes is caused by effective business development and promotion of the UAE sustainable development (Shahbaz, Sbia, Hamdi, & Ozturk, 2014).

The above study shows that the role of urban passenger transport in the passenger transportation system has been steadily increasing over the past few years due to the growth in passenger flows and the continued increase in using cars. Taking into account the fact that the use of personal vehicles for the occupied area of ​​the city’s transport network per passenger is tens of times inferior to public transport, and the carrying capacity of the urban passenger transport is ten times higher than that of the private motor transport the intensification of the development of public transport becomes obvious (Worku, 2013). The benefits of implementing public transport for high-income population also seem to be rather evident.

Specifically, buses are the main mode of transport in the world due to their economical operation, but the speed of their movement largely depends on the number of cars, while a dedicated lane for it improves the overall traffic situation. Buses in Dubai will start arriving at the request of passengers. Dubai authorities are launching a new service called bus on demand, which will move along the route in accordance with the needs of passengers in the areas of Al Warqaa and Al Barsha (“Dubai’s RTA”, 2018).

Despite the fact that the service is similar to the service of fixed-route taxi that is popular in some countries, there is also a fundamental difference as a bus driver makes the route receiving data from passengers vi a special mobile application. Mattar Al Thayer, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors of RTA, launched the above initiative in collaboration with Khalfan Juma Belhul, CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation. Before the launch of this service, the RTA conducted population surveys with sample size of 1,750 people. The service is focused on three target audiences, including workers (23 percent), professional specialists (15 percent), and retailers and service providers (62 percent) (“Dubai’s RTA”, 2018). The RTA also tried to adopt the best world practices of such countries as Germany, Spain, the USA, and Finland.

Ahmad Bahrozyan, general director of the RTA, informed Al-Tayer and Belhul about this initiative, which will be provided through the MVMAN intelligent application. In particular, 18-seat buses will work on flexible routes and timetables, and bus drivers will be able to recognize the demand for the service through the application to get to the nearest point (“Dubai’s RTA”, 2018). In their turn, customers from Al Warqaa and Al Barsha will be able to indicate their places and track the arrival time of their bus. In the course of the trial trips, the effectiveness of the mentioned transport will be assessed in terms of the response period, the travel time to the destination, and accessibility for passengers.

Problems of Car-Dominance, Traffic Congestion, and Traumas Associated with Seat Belt Utilization

The speed of transport communication affects the effectiveness of economic ties and the mobility of the population. The growth in the speed of delivery of passengers gives a tangible economic and social effect. When transporting passengers, it is expressed in the release of people’s free time, which can be used for other purposes. An important role in the social and economic development of the country is played by the safety and environmental friendliness of the transport system. Priority directions of further development of the industry are the creation of conditions for the introduction of new technologies, modernization of means and communication systems, expansion of the nomenclature and improvement of the quality of services, reduction of operating costs.

The occurrence of traffic congestion is facilitated by four main factors such as the growing number of cars in the UAE, the provision of bank loans for the purchase of cars, the ease of purchasing personal vehicles, and sale of new cars. The study by Tirachini, Hensher, and Rose (2014) suggests the introduction of a system that would impose restrictions on the number of cars in every family and the number of new vehicles sold by agencies is a solution to the problem. In addition, it is necessary to monitor the trade of used cars, and the owners of cars should be offered municipal transportation. As for road accidents, 40 percent of the deaths are caused by pedestrians crossing the road in the wrong places (Tirachini et al., 2014). Deaths are also caused by excess speed especially when the seat belts are not being worn (Alkheder, 2017; Bendak & Al-Saleh, 2013). It is reported plenty of road accidents are caused by speeding, and these accidents could be avoided by adhering to speed limits.

Potential Ways to Attract High-Income Population to Public Transport

The effective functioning of urban passenger transport is definitely one of the important goals since the system influence will inevitably be manifested in improved conditions for the movement of passengers in the urban environment (de Oña, de Oña, Eboli, & Mazzulla, 2013). Considering the key vectors of public transport system, it is necessary to pay attention to economic, ecological, and social factors. Premalatha, Tauseef, Abbasi, and Abbasi (2013) state that the core social goals are to be aimed at ensuring the accessibility of public transport services, a high-quality level of services provided, adequate costs for passengers, and appropriate process of waiting for vehicles and traffic city (Hassan, Hawas, & Ahmed, 2013).

The ecological vector of development implies reducing the environmental impact through the development of environmentally friendly modes of transport in the urban system such as high-speed trams and buses aligned with the control of the implementation of established standards for environmental pollution (Premalatha et al., 2013). Uncontrolled environmental consequences can have a negative impact on the attractiveness of the urban environment for life, the implementation of measures to improve the environmental situation in the city (Jayaraman, Colapinto, La Torre, & Malik, 2015).

In terms of the economic vector, modern development of information technologies regarding public transport allows utilizing an intelligent transport system (ITS) in order to exclude cash payments and facilitate payment process for public transport (Neirotti, De Marco, Cagliano, Mangano, & Scorrano, 2014). The utilization of non-cash transit systems implies the application of special intelligent cards and devices (Neirotti et al., 2014). Information reflected in the intellectual database transport system can be used both to allocate the amount of recoverable drop-out income and adjust the route network based on the determination of the required number of routes for different purposes (Cox, 2013). Due to incoming advance payments to smart cards of passengers, money is accumulated in a special account and is distributed only after processing information about the work of transport companies in a certain time period.

Nol Cards released by Dubai’s transport department present a rather useful decision in terms of contactless payment for using public transport based on ITS. Offered by Road and Transport Authority (RTA), Nol Card provides payment for travel in buses, metro, and trams. This method of payment is not suitable only for taxis, where only cash is accepted. In other respects, the transport card is the same for all types of crossings, both in Dubai and in neighboring cities (Narayanaswami, 2017). There are different variants of this card that depend on the requirements of passengers such as frequency of transportation, locations, service, etc.

For example, Gold Nol Card offers additional comfort. Firstly, on should note a special metro carriage that always has seats except during peak hours when occasionally there may be some problems (Al-Khouri, 2014). Secondly, there are rather comfortable soft chairs, and a trip in it resembles a first-class flight in an airplane (Debnath, Chin, Haque, & Yuen, 2014). Thirdly, it is always at the beginning of the train, sometimes even at the end. The advantage of this arrangement is a chic overview from the first or last window of the train to the whole city. In Dubai’s metro, everything is automated since the trains are not controlled by the drivers, and if one sits at the main window, the feeling is like riding on a roller coaster. In other words, Gold card provides such benefits that are essential to people with the high-income, while the example with metro may be adapted to be used in special buses for the given population.

The creation of dedicated lanes for public transport significantly increases its efficiency and attractiveness. However, if buses will become more beneficial, the road capacity as a whole tends to be reduced. The introduction of ITS elements allows improving priority movement of buses. Buses in Dubai and the UAE in general should move quickly. In this regard, Dubai is developing a network of public transport. By 2021, it is planned to introduce ten new bus routes in the most densely populated areas of the city as well as the expansion of dedicated lanes for buses and taxis.

Studies of the city’s Transport and Roads Administration (RTA) show that every bus moving along a dedicated lane reduces the number of cars on the roads by 50 units, while moving faster than they are for 5-11 minutes (Shahbandari, 2014). At the same time, the size of the penalty for driving on the lanes allocated for public transport is in Dubai Dh 600 (Shahbandari, 2014). Currently, in Dubai, there are more than seven kilometres of dedicated lanes for public transport in different parts of the city. This indicator will grow, primarily in the areas of Deira and Bar Dubai.

The private cars cannot use dedicated bus lanes, so buses do not stand in traffic congestion even at rush hour. The new cameras divide all vehicles into two categories: buses, taxis, ambulances, patrol and fire engines got into the white list, and private cars were included in the black list. The latter is allowed to move on a dedicated lane no more than 20 meters for exit and exit from the track, as well as for boarding and disembarking passengers.

The priority to public transport is given for one reason: it can deliver from point A to point B the largest number of people for the shortest period of time and with the least economic costs for maintaining the infrastructure (Nelson & Mulley, 2013). The pivotal goal of creating dedicated public transport lanes is to make sure that buses always come to a stop on time and do not spend hours in a traffic jam. This ensures predictability of the travel time. Therefore, the dedicated lanes allow to quickly transporting a large number of citizens from one point of the city to another according to the schedule of routes. The allocated lanes and a properly elaborated transport policy contribute to the reduction of traffic congestion.

Along with the creation of dedicated lanes, the city authorities need to constantly update buses and infrastructure of public transport as well as upgrade the existing routes and create new ones (Redman, Friman, Gärling, & Hartig, 2013). The priority of bus lanes should be determined by its capacity: the most capacious vehicles are used on the main highways, and the least capacious ones are located on the remote areas of the city.

To create conditions for comfortable use of public transport, it is critical to provide ergonomically equipped stations accessible for all categories of transport, creation of a convenient and profitable ticketing system, and so on (Redman et al., 2013). The creation of intercepting parking for the transfer of motorists before they enter the main urban highways is another option to consider. One more positive side of the introduction of dedicated lanes is the possibility of their use by emergency services, so an unhindered movement of fire-fighters and emergency medical services increases the chance for people to be saved.


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