Dubai: The world’s first unmanned train, the Dubai Metro, was launched amid much fanfare on 09.09.09. Three months later, as Dubai plunges deeper into an economic crisis, its shadow is reflected in the empty Metro stations and silent coaches.
While Metros in most cities across the world are running packed, for the Dubai Metro there is no such thing as a rush hour.
The Metro at present connects only commercial centres and the most popular stop on the Red Line—the only line that is operational at present—is the Mall of the Emirates where Dubai’s biggest and swankiest malls are located. But with the number of shoppers dropping, there are fewer commuters on the train.
Dubai’s top-end retail has taken a hit in recent months, forcing many of its boutiques to offer unheard of discounts.
Continuing delays is another reason why perhaps many commuters are overlooking the Metro. Says Benjamin Tan, a Philippine national who works at a jewellery store at the popular Bur Juman Shopping Centre, “The Metro has made life easier but it has not addressed the problems of delays. We still need to travel by buses and taxis to get to our homes. The Metro serves commercial projects but does not connect the city to the residential suburbs.”
Despite low occupancy, there are two sections in the trains that are going full—the VIP ‘Gold’ carriage and the women’s carriage. At 20 Dirham, the cost of a Gold carriage ticket is almost double the standard fare. But for the city’s affluent, that’s not a concern. After all, the Metro is a joy ride and not a ride they take to work.
Shoaq Ibrahim, a 20-year-old student travelling on the Metro, says the VIP class is their standard class, a class they are used to. “This is the culture we were raised into. The higher fare doesn’t bother me much,” he says.
And if there is one thing that the Metro has given the city’s residents, it is a sense of pride. Says Fatima Ali, who’s taking her first Metro ride, “The Metro has elevated the status of Dubai.”
Till now, nearly 30 billion Dirham have been invested in the Dubai Metro. But even as work is underway on new Metro lines, Dubai’s commuters worry that with the Metro cornering all resources, the less flashy but more practical forms of transport that link the city to the suburbs will not be developed.