Monday, November 13, 2006

Road Stuff

The Government Of Dubai is launching an intensive campaign aimed at transforming Dubai from one the world's most dangerous places for road users to one of the safest within five years. Huzzah!

It can't be done, of course, not in five years, but there's nothing wrong with a bit of ambition. Why can't it be done? Well, it's all down to driver education, respect for the law (and other road users) and effective enforcement. And getting drivers to realise that they are in charge of a potentially highly-lethal weapon.

Deporting truck drivers doesn't help - they just get replaced by new truck drivers who have even less clue about the local driving 'culture' than the previous incumbents. But yes, I'd love to see proper driver education - and I'm gonna piss some of you off now by saying: on a par with Western standards. Drivers from most Western countries are able to get a UAE driving licence simply by passing an eye test and paying money. People with licences from other countries have to pass a test. If there was to be a more advanced driving test brought in (and I've seen things in the press that suggest it is in the offing), then those with licences acquired before the new test is brought in will have to undergo extra training and sit the new test. And we need to see an end to the use of wasta in acquiring licences and in dealing with accidents.

The UK ran some brilliant TV campaigns on road safety about 20-30 years ago. One showed a hammer smashing into a peach - guess who won. Another showed what happened to crash test dummies if they were not wearing seat belts.

Gulf News did a survey on seat belt use and attitudes a few weeks ago. One commenter said he never wore a seat belt while travelling in the back seat, because 'the front seat will protect me'. Sorry pal, the front seat has a steel frame and, in a crash at even modest speed, it will smash you to bits. So, seat belts for all, and proper child seats for toddlers. And no exceptions.

Respect other road users. I remember a phrase from the UK Highway Code 'never do anything that would cause another driver to slow down or change direction'. If all drivers here just thought about that every time they made a manouevre, especially entering roads from a side street or changing lanes on a highway, we would see an immediate reduction in the number of accidents.

So that's road safety sorted out.

On to road tolls. Most of the local papers carried a leaked story from the Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) last week. We are to expect an announcement from the RTA concerning the introduction of road tolls from next July on dozens of major roads throughout the Emirate of Dubai. Notwithstanding the fact that I am leaving next July, this is madness. In the absence of a realistic public transport alternative, and the continuing illegality of car-pooling (because it takes revenue away from the taxis), this amounts to nothing more than another tax on motorists. It will have minimal impact on car use. It may force a number of Echo and the Sunnymen to leave, but guess what, they'll be replaced by more of same. It may force people to consider using a minibus service (there are dozens of these that run from Sharjah/Bur Dubai/Karama to TECOM/Jebel Ali). But that's about it.

Maybe the leak was a strategic move by the RTA to see what kind of response it got. If so, and if the RTA are reading this, my response is, don't even think about tolls until you have provided serious, viable alternatives to using cars. That means 2010 really. By then the first phase of the Metro will be operational, you will have figured out how to run a bus service (and this must include bus lanes and dedicated bus roads with the magic bollards featured in my previous post) on time, we'll have some ferries and hovercraft running up and down the coast, and, most importantly, you will have fixed the climate so that people can actually walk to the access points for these facilities without dying of heat stoke. Quite an easy job really. Go for it.