Known for record-breaking skyscrapers, indoor ski slopes, and mega-shopping malls, the oil-rich UAE is not often the picture that immediately comes to mind on the topic of sustainable transport. But big things are happening in this small nation — from bike-sharing to low-carbon emissions technologies to national recognition for sustainable transport initiatives, research, and media coverage, leaders are keying in on the economic benefits of sustainable transport and focusing on giving their citizens safer, healthier, more sustainable, and more affordable options in their daily travels.
Last year, the Middle East drew the distinction of being the fastest-growing region in the world in energy consumption, with demand rising 3.6%. Comparable in size to Maine, in the northern United States, the United Arab Emirates (comprising Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain) sits atop the seventh largest conventional gas reserves in the world and has the third largest carbon footprint per capita behind neighboring Kuwait and Qatar. Even as a leading oil producing and exporting region, the Middle East is facing the challenges of rising electricity demands, higher energy costs, and are therefore increasingly turning to alternative fuel sources. The Emirates, according to a recent Zawya news report, increasingly, “finds itself in a strange situation where Abu Dhabi exports gas while Dubai imports it.” The UAE has now begun to take advantage of alternative sources of energy that the arid Arabian Peninsula has to offer, namely, the sun. Although at the center of the world’s oil-exporting industry, the United Arab Emirates is quickly becoming a world leader in alternative energy and sustainable transport.
Bike-sharing debuts in Dubai
In recent years, the popularity of bike-sharing in the world’s urban areas has skyrocketed, from Amsterdam to Beijing, to Rio de Janeiro. In 2011, Tel Aviv in Israel became the first city in the Middle East to adopt a bike-sharing system, with the launch of Tel-O-Fun, but up until this year, the Gulf countries of the Arabian Peninsula had remained all but observers in the venerable world of bike-sharing.
Late last month, however, Dubai rolled out the peninsula’s first a bike-sharing system. Partnering with the largest international bike-sharing company, NextBike, the city of Dubai installed ten bike-sharing stations adjacent to metro stops, tourist areas, and the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. One-hundred bikes are available for rent at the stations’ solar-powered kiosks, where users scan prepaid membership cards. The system will serve as a valuable feeder to the metro for commuters and visitors.
Rewarding sustainable transport
To encourage similar initiatives and raise public awareness of the need for sustainable transport, Dubai’s Roads and Transportation Authority, under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, introduced a series of annual awards in 2008 for Dubai-based companies and organizations, in the public and private and public sectors, known as the Dubai Awards for Sustainable Transport (DAST). This year’s ceremony featured multiple award categories, including Transport Safety, Mobility Management, Environmental Protection, and School Transport, in addition to two new categories for Academic Research and Media Coverage of sustainable transport initiatives. To illustrate just how much the DAST awards are growing in popularity, there were only 28 award applicants in 2008 — most recently, in 2012, there were 89.
Re-imagining the “Las Vegas of the Middle East”
Home to the Middle East’s first monorail system, Dubai is looking at ambitious transportation systems. The city is planning a downtown tram and and the country will eventually be connected with the other Emirates by a high-speed rail system.
The next time you think “sustainable transport,” think Dubai!