U.A.E. : Abu Dhabi Sets Out Key Initiative on Road Transportation


NEWS FROM THE UAE
SOURCE : THE NATIONAL

 
Abu Dhabi’s road map of the future


ABU DHABI - APRIL 02: Key transport initiatives set out by the Department of Transport yesterday include taxes on diesel and petrol, congestion charges and subsidies for alternative fuels.

The proposals for the department’s integrated transport masterplan represent its favoured timetables over a series of five-year plans, with four deadlines that start in 2015 and end in 2030.

Other ideas include vehicle taxes linked to emissions, the pedestrianisation of Hamdan Street and Saadiyat Island, abolition of fuel subsidies and levying charges on boats that pollute waterways.

The scheme involves upgrades and new works projects for roads, waterways, tram, metro and international rail links to Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Precise timetables for each of the different elements has yet to be finalised but the five-year plans represent the department’s “preferred” sequence.

Preferred targets for 2015

A huge number of road building projects and upgrades will be undertaken, including the construction of multi-lane motorways linking Saadiyat to Shahama and the completion of the Salam Street tunnel.

Speed limits will be cut from 60kph to 30kph in some residential zones as part of traffic calming measures designed to enhance pedestrian safety and reduce the number of accidents.

Metro lines will offer passengers travel between Abu Dhabi Island, the airport and the new Capital City District on Abu Dhabi mainland. A loop service will also link Saadiyat Island with Marina Mall.

A total of 12 tram network loops will be unveiled allowing movement between Yas Island and Raha Beach and the bus station, Abu Dhabi Mall and Mina Zayed.

Dedicated bus lanes will be introduced while taxi services will be streamlined with a review of the number of taxis in service. People will also be able to receive travel information direct to their mobile phones.

 
A display detailing the Department of Transport’s strategy for Abu Dhabi, to be implemented in a series of five-year plans. Delores Johnson / The National
There are plans to operate air conditioned walkways, bus shelters and tram stations, and ferry services will run between the capital and Dubai.

Preferred targets for 2020

It is envisaged that Hamdan Street and Saadiyat Island will become car-free zones and that the Government will abolish fuel subsidies to encourage the use of public transport.

Large scale “parking barns” will be built near pedestrian zones, with valet-operated park-and-ride sites on the outskirts of the city.

The tram network will be extended to offer trips to Lulu Island, Khalidiyah Mall, the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre and the Central Market.

Fees will be introduced for boat emissions while dhows will run trips from the capital to islands around the coast.

New roadways will be constructed and further upgrades made to existing routes to allow travel between Reem Island, Saadiyat and Abu Dhabi.

Stronger enforcement measures will be implemented to discourage illegal parking.

Comprehensive computer systems will be introduced to provide people with constantly updated travel information.

Preferred targets for 2025

Planners hope to introduce parking charges linked to the fuel efficiency of vehicles and a system to allow drivers to pay car park fees via their mobile telephones.

Some traffic lights will be modified to give priority to pedestrians.

Tram networks will be improved with the opening of an additional five routes, providing services between south Hodariyat-Musaffah-Capital City and Capital City-universities-Sports hub. Other routes will allow travel to the Mafraq Labour Camp.

An express metro service to Abu Dhabi International Airport will be opened, and trains will start shuttling between Capital City, Dubai, Ghantoot and Shahama.

There are also plans to launch high-speed rail services between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

Resurfacing work will be carried out to replace existing road surfaces with low-noise materials, and special barriers will be installed to reduce noise further.

Preferred targets for 2030

The boldest proposals are included in the final stage of the Department of Transport’s plan.

According to the department’s current estimates, the city’s population will reach more than three million by 2030 and it believes that a range of radical measures will be needed to persuade people to abandon their cars in favour of public transport. These will include a series of taxes on diesel and petrol and further vehicle taxation linked to the levels of exhaust emissions produced by road vehicles.

Congestion charging could be introduced in Abu Dhabi Island’s central business district and the new Capital City District, while tolls could be put into effect on roads connecting the mainland to the island.

Drivers could be offered subsidies to swap their petrol and diesel cars for ones that run on alternative fuels. There are even plans to build developments where only electric cars will be allowed.

A train line offering direct travel between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia and Qatar could be built, and there are plans to construct two tunnels on Electra Street at its junctions with Fourth Street and Sixth Street.


Five-minute solution for public transport


ABU DHABI - APRIL 02: Everybody living in the capital will be a five-minute walk from some form of public transport within 20 years, under a masterplan revealed yesterday by the Department of Transport.

The DoT’s ambitious proposals to transform the way people move around the capital, known as the Surface Transport Master Plan, envisage four five-year stages in which residents will be steadily encouraged to abandon their cars in favour of other means of travel.

The masterplan, which was first commissioned in February last year to implement recommendations in the Urban Planning Council’s Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, expects that in the next 20 years, between 25 and 35 per cent of residents will be travelling regularly by public transport, using a smart card to pay once for a journey involving several changes.

In metropolitan Abu Dhabi, that would be more than a million passengers per day on average, should the population grow as predicted.

The plans were unveiled to the media yesterday in a hi-tech presentation at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. They include high-speed metro lines linked to 340km of tram lines with stations every 500 metres, as well as a network of buses, water taxis and ferries.

A major transport terminal will be established in the Central Business District and another in the new Capital City district.

Provisions for park and ride stations will be established in areas outside the island. A 590km regional passenger railway, travelling at speeds of up to 400kph, will connect Abu Dhabi to Al Gharbia, Al Ain and to the border with Dubai.

A second rail line for freight – part of the larger planned GCC rail network, being developed separately by Union Rail – will help to reduce the number of lorries on the motorways. Additional roads will be built and existing ones improved.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, had been briefed on the plans, said the state news agency WAM.

He remarked that thanks to the “wise directives” of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, the country had “managed to position itself in the world’s map for transport”.

Some of the proposals are bold, including one to make Hamdan Street and Saadiyat Island car-free zones by 2020 and the possibility of introducing taxes by 2030 that would be linked to exhaust emissions.

Yesterday, however, motorists used to traffic jams and struggles to find parking spaces welcomed the news.

Wala’a Mustafa, 23, is a recent graduate, and although she is Palestinian, she was born and raised in the UAE.

“To know that a public transportation point may be just a five-minute walk from me is wonderful, of course,” she said. “Actually, for most of us, it is so much easier to leave our cars behind and rely on a good transportation system.

“It will help me save money on petrol and car maintenance, and it will regulate my day better. I won’t have to leave so early just to make sure I find parking; parking is such a huge problem in this city and providing alternative transportation can help us to deal with that.”

Houssam Chahine, 34 and Lebanese, has been living in the country for 2½ years, and strongly welcomes the idea of a public transportation system, but only if it is thought out properly.

“I would say this is an ambitious plan, of course, and I personally would definitely use public transportation if it were feasible,” said Mr Chahine. “But I do worry about the feasibility of co-ordinating something like this, and understanding all the factors that go into a plan of this magnitude.”

The DoT has already begun to move ahead with some initiatives, such as calling in February for bids to complete a feasibility study for the 131km metro. Those proposals are expected to be submitted at the end of May.

Abdullah al Otaiba, chairman of the department, yesterday refused to disclose the estimated cost of the project but said that in spite of the global economic downturn, the department had been given the green light for the project. “We are watching the situation but we have a mandate not to stop rolling,” he said.

“Because of the current situation of the market right now and the costs of finance it is not logical to give any numbers. It is an umbrella project for all projects in Abu Dhabi in the future.

With the population of the emirate expected to expand from two million in 2008 to 10 million by 2030, the department predicts that if nothing is done roads will reach capacity by 2015 and average travel times will increase from about 45 minutes per trip to 4½ hours.

Too much good life bad for health

ABU DHABI - APRIL 02:At the end of another working day in his office in Abu Dhabi, “Abdullah” climbs into his Lexus LX570 to drive home to Al Ain. Before easing the gear lever into drive, he sets the car’s climate control system to 20°C, sets the cruise control to 140kph and selects some music to ease the tedium of a journey that, traffic allowing, should take no longer than an hour and a half.

When he arrives home, feeling tired and irritable, he is greeted by his wife who has prepared a large meal for the family, as she does every night.

Fifty years ago, his father made the same journey, with the sun beating down on his back, as his ancestors had done for centuries. The 160km trip from Abu Dhabi used to take seven days, during which food and water were carefully rationed. In 1959 there were no roads, so he rode a camel in one of the caravans that left for Al Ain once or twice a month.

“The routes were not without hazards,” recalled Mohammed al Fahim in his 1995 book From Rags to Riches. “Travellers were often harassed by bandits and robbers.”

Most aspects of life for Emiratis have been improved since then by the dramatic oil-driven shift from austerity to affluence. But there is one notable exception: experts believe the radical change in lifestyle from one generation to the next has fostered the diabetes epidemic that is gripping the UAE today.

The UAE has the second highest rate of diabetes per capita in the world (after Nauru, a Pacific island with fewer than 15,000 inhabitants). Estimates range between 20 to 25 per cent of the population, and studies from Al Ain have indicated that a further 29 per cent are pre-diabetic and at risk.

“There is,” said Dr Bachar Afandi, the head of endocrinology at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, “a link between diabetes and the rapid industrialisation of the nation.”

Genetically, the population of what is today the UAE has had no chance to adjust to the jump from near-famine to perpetual feast.

“Some countries took hundreds of years, but here the same things happened here in 30,” Dr Afandi said.

Prof Benjamin Caballero, professor of nutrition and international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said most diabetes is Type 2. Unlike the hereditary Type 1 variety, Type 2 can be avoided with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Researchers have found that as a people’s wealth increases, so does the risk of contracting diabetes.

“When the economic situation in these places improves it leads to a more sedentary lifestyle,” Prof Caballero said. “People, instead of walking, use their automobiles. They have more leisure time and watch more television.”

Now, Dr Afandi noted, life is prosperous.

With limitless food available, people eat less for survival and more for pleasure. Treats once saved for holidays and celebrations are now consumed on a daily basis.

Whereas all food was once prepared by the people who ate it, today few know what goes into the meals they order.

“Arabic countries have a different diet,” Dr Afandi said, “but the diet definitely changed here more than other places. We eat a lot and we eat quickly.”

In the past, exercise was necessary, not a lifestyle choice demanding gym membership; walking was as required as breathing – vital to finding food, water and firewood and to meeting friends and building shelter. “If you wanted to go to Dubai you had to walk; you would have to do it physically,” Dr Afandi said. “Now we are not doing any of that. We park next to the house so we can walk two steps.”

In the past, every activity involved an expenditure of energy. Sitting for hours was acceptable only for the infirm or elderly and even they were often given small tasks.

“Thirty years ago people here did not have cars,” Dr Afandi said. “If you are on a camel you spend a lot of energy riding that camel. If you ride a horse you spend energy, it’s not free.”

For the Bedouin of the past, nothing was plentiful – especially food and water. One has only to study the photographs taken by explorers such as Wilfred Thesiger, the British author – who in 1949 spent 20 days in Abu Dhabi followed by almost a month in Buraimi as a guest of Sheikh Zayed – to see the contrast in the faces of today’s Emiratis with their forebears.

All the men in the photos appear hardy and slender, adapted to the rigours of a tough, physical existence. Today, adults spend almost all of their time sitting – in front of desks, behind the wheels of cars, staring at TV screens and reading books.

“The problem here is the diet plus the sedentary lifestyle,” Dr Afandi said. “If you move from a rural area to an urban area the prevalence of diabetes increases. This is a major factor. People here moved from villages to very modern cities.”

All this is true, but modern life alone does not equal diabetes. The world average is six per cent of population, and even in America, land of the supersized meal, the average is only eight per cent. Why, then, does the UAE, a relative newcomer to industrialisation, have a diabetes problem four times that of the international average?

The answer almost certainly lies in genetics and the radical change in lifestyle. Five of the six countries with the highest rates of diabetes are in the Middle East: the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.

Prof Simon Taylor-Robinson of Imperial College, London, which opened a diabetes centre in Abu Dhabi in 2006, said people from the Gulf area were simply more prone to diabetes. The propensity to put on weight, he said, may have been an advantage for people surviving in the arid desert without easy access to food.

“It’s a bit like being a camel,” he said. “Camels store up food in the form of fat within their humps and they can travel long distances for that reason. I suspect the evolutionary advantage is something like that.”

In the context of the modern world, however, this becomes a disadvantage; one of the functions of the liver, for example, is to store energy for use in lean times. “It stores up food for a rainy day,” Prof Taylor-Robinson said, “but in times of affluence that rainy day never comes, because it stores up more and more food.”


A partnership vision for the UAE and India


ABU DHABI - APRIL 02: A good working relationship between India and the UAE would benefit not only both countries but also the world at large, APJ Abdul Kalam, the former Indian president, said yesterday. From the energy sector to date farming, Mr Kalam said, collaboration would create a “win-win situation”.

Mr Kalam, 77, was in the capital this week as one of the keynote speakers for Education Without Borders, a biennial student conference which aims to foster educational opportunities for young people around the world.

He said because the UAE was India’s third largest trading partner, and that the countries were located near each other and shared cultural values, that they were in a good position to work together.

“They can work together in the energy sector, particularly to generate clean energy,” he said.

“It could be solar energy or emulsification of diesel which will lead to clean energy. Also, both our countries can develop low-cost desalination plants using solar energy.

“This will create a world knowledge platform because, from the core competence of two nations that have been brought together to jointly develop technology, the world will ultimately benefit.”

 Farming is another area in which Mr Kalam would like to see more collaboration, especially in connection with dates – from cultivation through product manufacturing to marketing. He believes the UAE has the best dates in the world. “They taste like honey,” he said.

While India produces its own dates, he said, “the quality is not good”. But India has land to spare and technology that would enable an evolution of new farming techniques to the benefit of both countries.

Before he served as president of India, from 2002 to 2007, Mr Kalam was a scientist and engineer with the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Defence Research and Development Organisation. He also acted as an adviser to the Indian government on its nuclear tests in 1998.

“Whatever we do as nations, if we work together, it will always be a win-win situation,” he said. “And any work we do will build goodwill between the citizens of both countries. And the benefit will be beyond our shores.”

Taking a page from his autobiography, Wings of Fire, in which Mr Kalam wrote at length about the influence his mother and teachers had on his childhood, he recently toured the UAE talking to students, including at the Dubai Women’s College and the Abu Dhabi Indian School.

He stressed to them the importance of education and the bond between teacher and student.

However, when asked about the pressures on today’s Indian students to excel versus a general quest for knowledge, Mr Kalam said: “It’s the parents. They decide what the child will study. The children are innocent in this.”

He added: “During my lectures, I told students that they should care about three things when it came to knowledge. It should be about creativity, righteousness of the heart – which is the value system – and courage, and it is the teacher’s responsibility to impart this.”

Empowering the next generation through education is a theme of another of Mr Kalam’s books, titled India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium, which he wrote before becoming president. The book was inspired by a conversation with a girl who, when asked by him what she dreamt of, told him she wanted to live in a “developed India”.

The book also looks at the rise of regionalism, which Mr Kalam believes will lead to prosperity and peace. “Imagine a nation. They may have prosperity but not peace. Now imagine five nations, then an entire continent working together. They come together to decide the peace of the region. They target poverty, they create new markets between themselves. This is why regionalism is much better than a single nation dictating to the others.”

 
ID card fines within days, says Eida


UAE - APRIL 02: Fines will be imposed within days on Emiratis who fail to register for their government ID cards, according to the Emirates Identity Authority (Eida).

Darwish al Zarouni, director general of Eida, said that the penalties would be effective soon and also be final, the state news agency, WAM, reported.

“Mr al Zarouni called on all citizens to speed up registration and obtain identity cards before the fines were put into effect,” the agency said.

Thamer al Qasemi, planning director for Eida, had said on Tuesday – the official deadline for registration – that the legal mechanism by which people could be fined was not yet in place and that no fines would be imposed until it was. Speaking to The National yesterday, Mr al Qasemi said that the fines should also have been put into effect yesterday.

“People should make use of this period to complete their registration,” Mr al Qasemi said. He added that it may take a week or so for the fines – which could be up to Dh1,000 (US$272) – are imposed.

Eida centres were packed in the run-up to the deadline as Emirati families continued to register. Officials reported a huge turnout on Tuesday and that they had handled more than 7,500 applications.

Many UAE citizens have still to obtain their cards, however. Dozens of Emirati families who turned up yesterday at a registration centre in Al Karama post office said the process was still slow. “It is my fourth visit to the centre and I have managed to get cards for my entire family. However, my registration still remains,” said Ali Muhamed, an employee in the public sector.

He said that the staff had told him he had four more days before the fines would be imposed.

Women, children and elderly citizens waited for their turn at the centre all day. “This is a very slow process,” another applicant said. “Some say it is better to go to the Al Barsha centre, but I do not know where it is.”

Staff told other nationalities that appointments were being issued to Emiratis only for the next few days.

Mr al Qasemi said: “Clearly, there would be exceptions to the fine if there is a genuine case. However, people who have ignored the deadlines would be penalised.”

 

  

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