Big Data: The Icing in UAE’s Advanced Transport Systems

Public Transport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is pretty advanced, with technology at the heart of every decision implemented to make the country’s mobility systems state-of-the-art.

Like in all other sectors, including architecture and sports, the country’s leadership has the insatiable desire to be top of the pecking order whenever the words “best in the world” are mentioned – and no, not the expression – the UAE’s government desires to have the birds-eye view — overlooking everyone else.

It is important to note that the public transportation systems in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), especially the hubs, Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi, are clean, efficient, and light years ahead compared to middle-income economies.

While the hubs might experience traffic snarl-ups like any other part of the world, the public transportation network operates like clockwork.

Observers have pointed out that the public transportation system in the UAE is of a higher standard than in Western countries.

The Dubai Metro. It is technologically advanced, clean and efficient. Image Source: {Arabian Business}
The Dubai Metro. It is technologically advanced, clean, and efficient. Image Source: {Arabian Business}

Having said that, there are some unconventional aspects of the UAE public transport system.

The buses in Abu Dhabi have separate sections for men and women. The buses are designed such that the women’s section is immediately behind the driver while the men’s section is at the back.

Passengers are discouraged from eating while commuting by public transport. Commuters are also discouraged from carrying cooked food. A commuter might be asked to disembark when a driver notices the passenger is carrying food that smells.

Conversely, all taxis in Dubai are fitted with cameras with authorities in the region maintaining the reason is “to ensure taxi drivers comply with ethical and professional standards as well as safety regulations.”

A Ride Through UAE

As mentioned earlier, public transport in the UAE is orderly, efficient, and technologically advanced.

Public Transport in Dubai

The government is in charge of public transport in Dubai. The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) controls the public taxis, the buses, the Dubai Tram, the metro, and the water transport system.

Notably, Dubai is the only emirate to operationalize a transport card linking payments for most public transport systems, including the buses, water buses, tram, and metro.

You need to acquire a Nol card (Nol translates to fare in Arabic) to access these services.

The Dubai Nol card. It links payments for the majority of the public transport systems. Image Source: {Time Out Dubai}
The Dubai Nol card. It links payments for the majority of the public transport systems. Image Source: {Time Out Dubai}

Public Transport in the Other Emirates

Because Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah are the economic hubs of the UAE, public transport there is much more advanced compared to the smaller emirates, namely Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain, and Ras Khaimah.

These small emirates are linked with the larger emirates through buses and taxis.

Within the small emirates, public and private taxis are the most common means of transport because they offer affordable mobility.

Abu Dhabi, Ajman, and Sharjah also offer transport cards, but they are only used for bus services.

Public Transport Apps in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has made it easier for locals and foreigners to traverse the country by providing a one-stop public transport microsite for all emirates on its official web page.

Different public transport authorities regulate bus transport in five emirates, namely:

  • Roads and Transport Authority in Dubai
  • Department of Transport in Abu Dhabi
  • Public Transport Corporation in Ajaman
  • RAK Transport Authority in Ras Al Khaimah

The websites of these public transport authorities outline essential details, including routes, helplines, and timetables.

In Dubai, the RTA app is the most common public transport solution. The application is available on app stores free of charge. It offers every vital detail you would be interested in about public transport in the emirate including fares, maps, routes, and timetables.

The Dubai RTA app. It is a one-stop-shop for every public transport solution you might need in the emirate. Image Source: {STE Primo}
The Dubai RTA app. It is a one-stop-shop for every public transport solution you might need in the emirate. Image Source: {STE Primo}

Elsewhere in Abu Dhabi, the Darb app plays the same role and guides commuters on fares, maps, routes, and timetables.

Train Transport

Traditional rail transport is something utterly foreign to the UAE. However, Dubai has a metro while Abu Dhabi is expected to launch a state-of-the-art metro network in the near future.

Train Transport in Dubai

The Dubai metro is a world-class and the world’s third-largest fully automated rail network after Singapore and Vancouver. It operates without a driver for the entire 74.6 km stretch.

The Dubai Metro. It operates without a driver. Image Source: {Nairaland Forum}
The Dubai Metro. It operates without a driver. Image Source: {Nairaland Forum}

It runs on green and red lines and stops at 49 stations, of which nine are underground.

Every station comes complete with bus connections, electric escalators, bicycle stands, and lifts.

Two compartments are strictly reserved for women and children, while the other is reserved for Gold class ticket holders.

According to a research paper dubbed Analyzing the Travel Behaviour and Travel Preferences of Employees and Students Commuting Via the Dubai Metro authored by Khaula Alkaabi, a student of the United Arab Emirates University published in January 2014, Big Data is being used in the UAE to monitor and assess passenger behaviour, make real-time public transport decisions and to cut down on carbon footprint.

Train Transport in Abu Dhabi

At the time of writing, Abu Dhabi does not yet have a metro system in place. The emirate was supposed to operationalize Phase 1 of the project by the end of 2020 but the line has faced numerous delays.

Once complete, the metro will be 131 kilometres and will connect Abu Dhabi, its suburbs, the Al Raha Beach, Yas Island, and Saadiyat Island communities.

Cumulatively, the Abu Dhabi Metro Project is expected to cost the emirate’s authorities a whooping 7 billion Dirhams (USD 1.9 billion).

Bus Transport

Bus drivers in the United Arab Emirates are trained in driving articulated vehicles. The bigger emirates like Dubai and Abu Dhabi have also made a significant investment in ecological buses that run on rechargeable batteries.

The bus is the most affordable mode of transport for moving from one emirate to the next.

In Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, and Ajman, the fare is paid via a smart transport card: The Nol card in Dubai, the Hafilat smart card in Abu Dhabi, the Masaar Card in Ajman and the Sayer card in Sharjah.

Bus Transport in Dubai

The Dubai Public Transport Agency offers extensive bus services covered by a large fleet of 1,518 buses.

A bus riding through the streets of Dubai. The bus system in Dubai is clean, organized, and efficient. Image Source: {Intelligent Transport}
A bus riding through the streets of Dubai. The bus system in Dubai is clean, organized, and efficient. Image Source: {Intelligent Transport}

The agency operates a network of 119 internal lines comprising 35 lines linking the metro stations, 12 intercity lines to ferry commuters to other emirates, 8 fast lines, and 62 internal lines.

The network covers over 80% of the urban space in Dubai, and as per the Dubai Public Transport Agency, the buses transport about 369,248 passengers per day.

Bus Transport in Abu Dhabi

The Abu Dhabi Department of Transport runs an extensive bus network within Abu Dhabi and other parts of the emirate, including Al Gharabi and Al Ain.

All buses plying domestic routes within Abu Dhabi City work round the clock.

Commuters boarding a bus in Abu Dhabi. Buses in the emirate work round the clock. Image Source: {Gulf News}
Commuters boarding a bus in Abu Dhabi. Buses in the emirate work round the clock. Image Source: {Gulf News}

As noted earlier in the article, the buses in Abu Dhabi have separate sections for men and women. The buses are designed such that the women’s section is immediately behind the driver while the men’s section is at the back

According to an article published by Intelligent Transport, the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) in July 2020 announced an electronic system that would leverage Big Data to monitor physical distancing in buses.

This platform is linked electronically with the Control Centres of Public Transport Agency. It assists the concerned personnel to take appropriate decisions whenever a breach of physical distancing instructions between onboard passengers is detected. The platform relays details of incompliant buses including the route number, percentage of incompliance detected, date and time of the journey, driver details, and frequency of incompliance on the part of the involved bus.

Khaled Al Awadhi, Director of Transportation Systems, Public Transport Agency, RTA.

Tram Transport

The Dubai Tram is the only one of its kind outside Europe that operates on an underground power supply. The Dubai tram network covers a distance of 10.6 km across 11 stations.

The Dubai Tram snaking its way through the emirate's streets. It is one of the safest public means of transport in the world. Image Source: {Gulf News}
The Dubai Tram snaking its way through the emirate’s streets. It is one of the safest public means of transport in the world. Image Source: {Gulf News}

One characteristic of the Dubai tram is that it comprises seven cabins categorized into gold and silver classes.

One silver class cabin section is set aside for women and children.

The Dubai tram is the only one in the world that uses platform screen doors in passenger stations that are synced with the trams doors’ opening and shutting down systems.

According to a research paper dubbed Big Data in Smart Cities: Analysis and Applications in the Arab World authored by Hoda A. Abdel Hafez of the Suez Canal University, Big Data is being used in UAE Tram Transport to analyze the history of irregular incidents, suggest alternative routes and to stop accidents.

Taxi Transport

Taxis are the most preferred means of transport for short distances in the United Arab Emirates.

The taxi system in the UAE is organized, efficient, and clean, while fares are strictly regulated.

Dubai taxis operating on a working day. The emirate's taxi system is orderly. Image Source: {Welcome Pickups}
Dubai taxis operating on a working day. The emirate’s taxi system is orderly. Image Source: {Welcome Pickups}

A commuter can hail a taxi on the streets on the condition that the taxi sign is lit, which is usually an indicator that the taxi is unoccupied.

A commuter can also book a taxi via the RTA app.

Unlike Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi, which have dedicated departments that run taxi services, the smaller emirates do not have that luxury, thus Emirates Transport operates this service on their behalf.

According to a research paper dubbed Developing a Comprehensive Taxi Strategy For Dubai: Based on System Analysis & Structured Assessment, Big Data in Dubai is used to manage the availability of taxis, identify consumer preferences, identify market trends and make safety and security improvements.

Bettering the Best

How do you improve an already technologically advanced public transport system?

Dubai, in particular, is built to be a financial hub that attracts tens of millions of foreign visitors every year.

Well, Big Data is the gift that keeps on giving to those that sustain the hunger to improve public transport.

When the discussion involves the word “improving”, the United Arab Emirates is not known to shy away from an ambitious undertaking.

Because ambition is what it takes to deliver the best.