Abu Dhabi considers congestion charges

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Abu Dhabi considers congestion charges
Ivan Gale and Matthew Chung for THE NATIONAL

Last Updated: June 22. 2008 11:45PM UAE / June 22. 2008 7:45PM GMT
The scenario emphasises road-based public transport options such as new bus fleets, instead of rail-based metro and tram systems. The National
ABU DHABI // The Abu Dhabi Government is considering eliminating fuel subsidies, introducing congestion charges and levying new fees on motorists as part of its efforts to solve the capital’s transport woes, according to documents posted on a new Department of Transport website.

The documents, developed by the DoT and made public on its website, illustrate the dilemma the department is facing. They lay out four scenarios for improving transportation in the city.

Three of the plans call for more public transportation, while one suggests building more motorways, although it is understood that the department could also adopt elements of the different plans.

Just two days ago, the Department of Planning and Economy released a report saying that road congestion and poor public transport were inflicting a “heavy economic toll” on the city and required “urgent remedial measures”.

The DoT has been studying the emirate’s transport problems since it was created two years ago. The city currently has a dearth of buses and many people wait for long periods to catch cabs.

Over the next two decades the department is expected to spend tens of billions of dirhams to improve things, in part to support the emirate’s 2030 plan, aimed at guiding the overhaul of infrastructure over the next quarter of a century.

The developers of the 2030 initiative expect Abu Dhabi’s population to more than triple in size during the period.

The transport department has invited the public to comment on the four scenarios. Then, in February 2009, the agency is expected to issue its recommendations and a blueprint for the transport network.

Abdulla al Shamsi, the director of roads and infrastructure at Abu Dhabi Municipality, said the new website and the publication of the documents were part of a transparency drive to keep the public more informed and actively involved in government planning.

The website, he said, “is really a step forward to the future”. It can be accessed at www.transportabudhabi.ae and members of the public are encouraged to comment on the ideas.

The four plans are: a highways-based scenario, a public transport and car alternatives scenario, a demand management scenario and a “low carbon” based scenario.

Under the highways approach, the Government would divert funds towards developing a high capacity, high quality motorway system to cater to private vehicles and road-based public transport and freight.

Existing freeways would be widened and flyovers and underpasses would be added. A one-way street network would be introduced in the central business district to improve flow and capacity.

The scenario emphasises road-based public transport options such as new bus fleets, instead of rail-based metro and tram systems. Toll lanes would be offered for commuters seeking to avoid congestion during peak travel times.

The public transport scenario would expand the mass transit network to include regional rail, trams, metro, bus and water ferries.

The plan calls for a network of integrated services so that journeys can be “door-to-door”. Some road capacity would be allocated to public transit, with the expectation that traffic would be transferred from the road to the public transit.

A regional rail network would be created within the emirate with high-speed rail links to Dubai, Al Ain and potentially Qatar. The public transit plan also calls for air-conditioned walkways. Ferries would service commuters living on the new residential islands of Abu Dhabi and others would run to Dubai.

The demand management scenario would introduce fees for road use, impose vehicle taxes and other maintenance charges, and provide free park-and-ride sites to encourage public transport use. The charges would be introduced in stages after public transport option alternatives are in place.

Fuel subsidies would be removed and fuel taxes introduced, as well as annual vehicle registration fees and safety tests. Congestion charges would be introduced as well as “cordon pricing” for vehicles entering the metropolitan area, similar to the one used in central London. Paid parking would also be extended. Car-pooling and cycling would be encouraged and signs throughout the city would warn drivers about congested areas. Pedestrian-only zones would encourage walking.

However, the report notes that introducing charges on motorists would “most likely” meet opposition.

The low carbon based scenario would rely heavily on public transport but would include a personal rapid transit network on Lulu Island and the use of alternative fuel and low-emission buses.

Low-pollution or electric vehicles or freight trams would be used to transport freight. A low emission zone would be introduced for Abu Dhabi, Sowwah, Reem and Saadiyat Islands, as well as the Capital City development, with charges on vehicles entering the zone based on their emissions. Subsidies would be given for alternative fuels.

In another sign that transport planning is gathering momentum, the DOT last week assembled its largest ever gathering to discuss transport options with key stakeholders from the public and private sector.

More than 70 people attended the meeting. In addition to government agencies, participants included representatives from the emirate’s biggest companies such as Mubadala, Aldar, the Abu Dhabi Investment Agency, Hydra Properties, and Abu Dhabi Basic Industries Corp.