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Delivering world-class public transport systems in the Middle East

Ahmed El Essnawi

Ahmed El-Essnawi

10 March 2015 - Ahmed El-Essnawi, Highways and Transport Infrastructure Leader for the Middle East and North Africa, is responsible for delivering world-class services relating to highways and transport infrastructure to Aurecon’s clients in the Middle East and North Africa, especially in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf countries.

In this interview, we asked El-Essnawi about the unique challenges, trends and considerations of creating usable public transport systems in the Middle East.

How is the Middle East progressing with regard to public transport systems?
A decade ago, there weren’t public transport systems in the Gulf countries. People used their own cars for transportation purpose. In 2005, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) started planning the Dubai Metro, which was officially launched on 9 September, 2009, making it the first city in the Gulf to adopt a metro public transport system.

Today, Dubai’s public transport system has evolved into much more than a metro system – it is a fully-integrated public transport system. There are now many different modes of transport in use in Dubai, and you’ll notice signs for pedestrians, cars, buses, trams and the metro. 

Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest markets for future transport systems – I would estimate that their transport needs are  much larger than any other Middle Eastern countries, making this growing market a major focus point for Aurecon and other transport services providers.

Encouraging the use of public transport
Public transport systems are still new in the Middle East and people are growing accustomed to using them efficiently. We need to make public transport more attractive to people so that they see it as a viable option. When a public transport system is implemented, consultancy groups such as Aurecon estimate what percentage of the city’s population will be using it and then focus on ways to increase that percentage. The traffic jams and congestion on the highways in Dubai are making it better for people to leave their cars at home and take a metro instead. Similarly, there’s a system where vehicle drivers pay a fee for crossing different regions in Dubai, known as Salik, so it’s becoming more expensive to travel by car.

What is currently holding the Middle East back in terms of creating even larger public transport systems?
Financial constraints are one of the biggest barriers. The Gulf area invested heavily in highway infrastructure over the past decade, but projects slowed down after the global financial recession in 2009. This year, things have started to pick up again and there has been renewed investment in these projects. Aurecon is working closely with local developers and authorities who are expanding their transport networks. In addition, unique challenges such as cultural considerations need to be carefully planned for and addressed.

The importance of cultural consideration
Culture is a factor that needs to be taken into account in the Middle East. Dubai is very open to different cultures, however will see that there is an exclusive carriage on the metro for women and children. When Saudi Arabia gets a public transport system, there will be a focus on cultural considerations. This needs to be allowed for when designing the transport systems, as well as the flow of pedestrians onto the trains and so forth.

How is Aurecon helping clients adapt to future transport needs?
Besides being able to plan and create integrated public transport systems, we are also able to adapt these plans and future-proof them for growth and expansion within the Middle East. From an economic perspective, city planners and governments need to forecast population growth. We are currently working with the Roads and Transport Authority of Dubai and we have estimated that the road network will need to be increased by 2030. The cities in the Middle East continue to grow and, in Dubai specifically, this will mean more metro lines, the extension of existing metro lines, a wider network coverage for buses, water taxis and so on.

How can Aurecon’s experience benefit clients?
We offer a fully-integrated range of technical services from planning, preliminary and final design, engineering management and administration, through to the construction supervision of buildings, roads and highways, stormwater drainage systems, bulk earthworks, water supply and reticulation, sewerage drainage and treatment, water canals and bridges. We are basically a one-stop consultancy for everything that is needed to create transport systems.

Our team uses modern modelling techniques to test traffic data and flow. Our transport planners have been involved with some of the best public transport systems in the world, as well as right here in the Middle East, so we know what works.

Where we add value is being able to take a city, urban or development plan and put the transport systems in place to make it a liveable, efficient and sustainable environment for the people who need to move around within the area. Take the Palm Jumeirah, for example – over a million people live there and Dubai’s shoreline was increased by over 500km to accommodate these residences. A development such as this would not be able to function without a transportation master plan that would enable people to move around with ease. Aurecon is able to work with developers and planners to make sure the right road networks, with the right size corridors and infrastructure, are planned from the start.

Aurecon is excited to be at the forefront of many exciting transport developments in the Middle East. that will leave a legacy for the people of the Middle East.

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