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Sun 27 Jan 2008 04:00 AM

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All aboard

RogenSi and the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) are seeking solutions to the Dubai traffic problem.

Trying to arrange an interview with Terry Reynolds is a complex affair. It's not that the managing director of RogenSi Middle East is a difficult man; he is more than accommodating when it comes to rearranging our interview. And I should know: our meeting is cancelled and rearranged on three separate occasions before we finally give up and agree to talk by telephone.

Because that was the week that travelling across Dubai became even more of a nightmare than it usually is. It was the week that made navigating anywhere across the city nigh on impossible due to record amounts of rain and a total shutdown of the city due to president Bush's visit.

The irony is that RogenSi - a global consultancy agency with a turnover of US$39.1m - has been working closely with the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) for the last six months to find a solution to the traffic problem, and has just completed its biggest project with the transport authority to date.

The project, most noted in the press because of its use of the British television character, Mr Bean, was the ‘Drive for Results' safety campaign for Dubai's bus drivers. "We weren't teaching the bus drivers how to drive, we were teaching them about safety awareness, which from what we know about accident rates across the world is the biggest cause of accidents," says an enthusiastic Reynolds.

The project, which served around 2100 bus drivers in Dubai, over 11 days with a focus on teaching the city's bus drivers how to deal with Dubai traffic, overwrought passengers and increasingly congested roads. "We showed all of the drivers that you can't ever control an event but what you can control is how you respond to that situation. We used the acronym SAFE - safety, awareness, focus and energy - to cover the basics of safety and awareness. I have generally found that if bring people into a room and all you do is talk to them it raises awareness anyway, but it just needs to be done regularly," he explains.
"The RTA is very keen to continue the relationship. It has made a large financial investment and their attitude has been regardless of costs - you can't put a cost on unsafe driving," he adds.

Improving safety across the city is of paramount importance to the RTA "The campaign is a first step which marks the beginning of a huge public safety movement, which will positively affect all levels of transport. We will significantly decrease the number of road accidents and set the bar for all future transport divisions," says Essa Abdul Rahman Al Dosari, committee of the board and CEO of the Public Transport Agency (PTA).

"The PTA will continually assess the needs of public transportation and similar campaigns will be mobilised through Health, Safety and Environment Office. The success of these campaigns also relies on educating the general public on how to safety use public transport and ensure that they are aware of how to make the roads a safer place," he adds.

Although it is still too early to see the results Reynolds says RogenSi will be closely monitoring RTA statistics on areas such as customer complaints, accidents and punctuality. The company's past experiences in the transport area may be a good indication of the potential success of the project.

The company doesn't claim to be transport experts - instead choosing a wide variety of projects - but the results it achieved for the public transport service in Dublin, Ireland in 2003 are noteworthy.
RogenSi helped established a joint project team and an intensive 12-week planning and a diagnostic phase for the US$81m government bus service in Ireland after it predicted huge growth and changing dynamics. Workshops and programmes with staff from senior management to drivers followed, and Reynolds describes the results as "outstanding.

Even the CEO of CIE, the holding company which owns Dublin Bus - initially a major skeptic - commented on RogenSi's results when his own results of an independent survey were published.

The ‘Drive for Results' campaign cements RogenSi's partnership with the RTA. Other projects have included leadership programmes with the CEO of the RTA, Mater Al Tayer and seven of his other senior employees as well as work in its human resources department. "We have also had brief discussions with the taxi board about potentially doing something similar. While we are not experts in public transport, we can change a mindset and raise awareness," says Reynolds.

The partnership between the RTA and RogenSi is all part of a wider and ongoing drive by the RTA to encourage further use of public transport across the city. Dubai Metro is moving closer to completion - just last week Al Tayer attended the technical trial running of the metro in Hiroshima, Japan - but every day without it is a day without a fully functioning public transport service.

Introducing new bus routes is not quite as complex as introducing an entire new rail network and the RTA is keen to encourage further use.
In response to this drive and in line with Dubai's Strategic Plan 2007-2015, which includes key aspects on infrastructure and economic development, there are a number of projects in place to encourage the public to use the bus system.

The city currently has up to 504 buses running on 62 routes, covering just 35% of the emirate. In a city of 1.4 million this is far from enough but the RTA has already announced plans to increase this coverage to 60% by the end of the year through a number of different initiatives.

One such initiative is its intention to launch a public tender which will allow international companies to participate and supply 1616 new buses. "With this transaction, the number of buses would rise to the 2500 buses in the year 2009 guaranteeing the coverage rate of 95% of the emirate of Dubai with the public transport services and feeding the Dubai Metro stations with the lines required to raise the proportion of trips made by mass transit," says Al Dosari.

The PTA is also preparing a bus master plan which will include preferred lines for buses to provide speedy and safe transfer, improve operating efficiency and identify the appropriate infrastructure among others. It will include the addition of six new stations to accommodate buses in Jebel Ali, Al Quoz, Motor City, Dubai Silicon Oasis, Jebel Ali Airport and Al Qusais.

In December last year the RTA also announced it would launch four new bus lines in April this year. The new lines will use 104 buses operating in the early morning and evening peak hours and will include routes from Deira City Centre to Jumeirah Zoo and International City to the Mall of the Emirates.
It is probably the addition of a number of air-conditioned bus shelters across the city which will further encourage the use of the city's bus routes in the summer. The air-conditioned domes across the city are part of an ongoing project which was started in 2006. At a contractual cost of US$4.76m per year and a general maintenance cost of US$952,951 per year, the project has ensured that the city now has a number of the shelters across the city -- its aim is to reach 800 this year -which should encourage continuing bus use throughout the hot summer months.

Dubai is often compared to the likes of Hong Kong and Singapore in areas of business but it is its transport that is often the reason for much criticism. Reynolds correctly notes, however, that Dubai is still a young city and although the RTA is doing a fine job, its biggest challenge by far, he believes is keeping up with demand.

I would say keeping up with growth is its biggest challenge. If you look back at what the RTA has achieved in the last 18 months; Garhoud Bridge, Festival City etc, they are making great progress. We are becoming impatient because we look at the downside of what we go through every day as opposed to the long or even short-term," says Reynolds.

However, with petrol and cars significantly cheaper in the Middle East than other parts of the world, does Reynolds think it will take a lot more than a metro and a more complex bus route to persuade residents to part with their much-loved 4x4s? "The local population is certainly a driving culture and the issues in Dubai's traffic are a lot wider than its public transport.

If you look at the UK for example, it would cost me around US$230 to fill up my car - would I have the car I drive in the UK, here? No," he says honestly. "But from a tourism perspective it is great.

While it's unlikely the majority of Dubai's population will jump on the next bus on the way home, more buses, further routes and calmer drivers should encourage further use for those that do rely on public transport every day.

Dubai creek’s water taxis

In July last year the RTA launched the long awaited water bus service, an alternative to crossing Dubai Creek. The fleet of 10 air-conditioned boats, each with a capacity of 35 passengers, operates from five stations including Baniyas and Sabka in Deira, and the Al Ghubaiba, Old Souk and Al Seef stations in Bur Dubai.

Set to compete with the more traditional methods of crossing the water such as the abra, the water taxi's travel at a top speed of 12 knots.

The service is expected to move over 2 million passengers in the first year and the number is likely to reach 5 million in the future.

Keep to promote green travel alternatives, the RTA also announced a more eco-friendly version of the water taxis with plans to launch two solar powered versions. The solar energy-operated abra engines will help cut down on pollution levels caused by abra diesel engines by 80% and reduce fuel cost by 65%, cutting the annual fuel bill from US$1m for diesel consumption to US$600,000 for solar energy batteries.

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