A peek at Dubai

Whilst travelling to Europe in May 2013, my wife and I took the opportunity to stop over in Dubai, United Arab Emirates for two days. I took the opportunity to take a brief sample of the local public transport.

Dubai has flourished in the last two decades with the previous and current rulers modelling much of the City State’s development on trends from Singapore (which by coincidence we had visited the previous year). There were many obvious comparisons such as high rise cluster developments and the introduction of metro and light rail systems (the latter still under construction). Mind you it takes getting used to the idea that the metro trains have a separate carriage for women and that there is no service on Friday mornings whilst the holy day is observed.

In addition to the two line Metro system, Dubai Bus Service operates a modern fleet of low floor buses on numerous suburban routes which focus on several bus stations in the CBD, the major shopping centres such as Dubai Mall and feeder routes into the metro system. A session at the Gold Souk bus station produced a varied selection of rigid, articulated and double decker buses from European suppliers such as VDL, Solaris and Neoplan. Despite there being a control/ security box and cameras around the station, I was pleasantly surprised that no inquiries were made as to my photography activity.

The downside was a lack of information as to routes and timetables. Whilst most routes seemed to operate regularly enough for timetables not to be a worry (in daytime anyway), the lack of any system map would, I expect, make life difficult for both local expats and the casual visitor. The scrolling destinations on the buses alternate between Arabic and English script so if one knows one’s destination, identifying your bus is not too hard.

The comparisons to Singapore continued with tour buses as the majority sighted were either Japanese or Chinese minibuses (including some yellow school buses) or Chinese built full and mid size coaches. Some names were familiar from Australia (e.g. King Long) whilst other marques are as yet not available here. There were also some European marques including Scania and Mercedes but these appeared to be in the minority.

Dubai’s local population do little physical work as most are very wealthy. All of the real work in Dubai is done by guest workers who provide all the labour for the service industries, especially building and construction. The workers are transported to and from work in their own buses. Rather than the pleasant air conditioned low floors of Dubai Bus Services, the contractors provide very basic buses, mostly from Indian suppliers such as Ashok Leyland and Tata. Again like Singapore these tend to live not in established depots but in coach and truck parking areas on vacant ground.

We sampled a city tour offered by Arabian Adventures. After being collected from our hotel in a Toyota Coaster, our minibus rendezvoused in a vacant allotment with two other minis and a full size coach which performed the rest of the tour. This turned out to be a Scania A80 bodied in China and clearly an up market cousin of the A30 school buses in Australia. The A80 was a two axle air conditioned coach with centre exit and toilet and was of comparable quality to day tour coaches in Australia.

A thrilling tour option involves taking a 4wd tour into the desert which includes a dune bashing session, camel rides and a local feast, complete with belly dancer. Imagine a desert “coach park” filled with 69 Landcruisers and a lone Nissan Patrol which then proceed to charge all over the desert up, down and sideways across the dunes. This tour featured in the Master Chef TV series in August. My Pakistani driver was reassuring “I’ve only rolled over three times”. Funnily enough I was far more confident in his dune driving than his freeway driving which outdid most taxi steerers. The only road rule I could fathom was “he who gets his nose in front wins”.

There are also Neoplan airport tarmac transfer buses – but you only get a bus with seats if you fly first or business class.