Abu Dhabi Nol Card System and Dedicated Bus Lane

Introduction

Urban public transport occupies a special place in public life as it is included in the complex of branches of social infrastructure such as business, healthcare, education, retail trade, housing services, leisure, and so on. Public transport in the UAE makes an essential impact on the social and economic development of different Emirates and communications between them. The largest bus network is located in Dubai (112 routes) and Abu Dhabi (75 routes) (“Bus transportation”, n.d.). According to information provided by the Department of Transport in Dubai, 543 million people, including tourists and repeated users, used public transport as a means of transportation in 2016 compared to 539 million persons in 2015 (“Bus transportation”, n.d.). This statistics reveals the growing need for developing and improving public transport in the UAE.

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To properly solve the problems of planning and organizing the movement of public vehicles and determining trends in the development of passenger transportation in the city, it is necessary to understand the patterns of the formation of passenger traffic and systematically study them in specific conditions (Worku, 2013). Passenger traffic is understood as the number of passengers transported during a given period of time in a given section of the road on either one or several routes. As noted by Shahbandari (2015), currently there is one car for every two citizens of Dubai. For passenger traffic, unevenness in the areas, various direction of routes, and time of traveling are considered to be characteristic. Considering the increasing number of high-income people in some Emirates of the UAE, it is essential to cover this population and discuss how to adapt public transport means to their needs and expectations (Ahmed, 2017; El-Bana, Selim, & Taleb, 2015). This work will focus on studying the potential effectiveness of implementing a dedicated bus lane and Nol Card to attract high-income population using public transport.

The research question is would the implementation of a specific Nol Card system and a dedicated bus lane in public transportation for high-income Emirati population be cost-effective and value-adding in some parts of Abu Dhabi?

The purpose of the research paper is to study the potential economic effectiveness of a dedicated bus lane and Nol card and to determine the value this solution would bring to the given population and the overall development of the region.

Based on the goal of the research paper, the following objectives are distinguished:

  • to characterize bus as the target means of public transportation for people with a high income some parts of Abu Dhabi;
  • to consider the premises for opening a dedicated bus lane and using Nol card;
  • to specify factors that need to be considered while implementing the mentioned option;
  • to study public opinion and attitudes of transport companies regarding the identified issue.

Al-Khouri (2014) points out that the public opinion on the NOL cardin Dubai was positive, with millions of enrolled users; it is actively used by citizens due to its convenience. As emphasized by Bajracharya (2016) and Daraio et al. (2016), ever-developing technology needs to be implemented in public transport system to benefit by the reduction of traffic congestion and more rapid transportation process. In this regard, the research paper will focus on considering experience of other countries and those of the UAE in promoting innovations in the sphere of public transport.

Literature Review

Public Transport and Economy of the UAE

The interaction and the relationships between the public transport sphere and the economy are studied rather thoroughly. The effect of investing in transport infrastructure with the subsequent economic growth, interaction between different modes of transport, and application of modern logistics technologies are explored in plenty of scientific works (Goodwin& Van Dender, 2013). At the same time, there are different approaches to what is primary: the economy (structure and proportions in a given economic system) that affects transport, or transport that stimulates the economy. Nevertheless, the one issue is evident – a well-developed economy requires an appropriate public transport system.

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Improving transport infrastructure contributes to expanding trade and intensifying the competitiveness of countries and regions within one country. Such development usually occurs in parallel with the growth of the economy, while the expansion of the public transport sector generates an increase in the proportion of an employed population and their incomes (Xenias&Whitmarsh, 2013). The above authors discuss the current trend, in which the development of transport contributes to economic growth. Even though the issues of external factors have not yet been fully and thoroughly studied, there are some facts. First, the development of the public transport system allows enhancing the availability of various regions of the city, its resources, and population, thus planning economic activity (Worku, 2013). Second, the development of the transport system helps to draw conclusions about the spatial advance of the country, about where the population lives, where jobs are located, and what are the preferred locations. Worku (2013) suggests that several amenities to existing public transport are to be made (Table 1):

Amenities of public bus service in the UAE.
Table 1. Amenities of public bus service in the UAE (Worku, 2013).

In order to take appropriate measures in the organization of passenger flows, the government should influence the development of the transport system through investments in infrastructure, enhancement of public transport, and management of transport flows. de Grange, González, Muñoz, andTroncoso(2013) consider that it is critical to evaluate the target population’s income elasticity in order to properly attract people and maintain their interest.

Factors Determining the Need for Special Public Transport for People with High-Income

Passenger expectations

A large flow of passengers leads to regular lines to use public transport. A person of the 21st century with a high income cannot accept such a situation. The queue for landing in public transport is an unacceptable condition for traveling for a busy citizen, who has a high income and is able to buy a new car. The average purchase price of a new car in the UAE is more than 27 thousand dollars (Hassan, Hawas, & Ahmed, 2013). According to more recent data, new, unused cars can be sold for up to $97,000 dollars (Dubizzle, 2018). It seems impossible that a person, who is able to give such money for a car will exchange it for standing in a queue to land in public transport. Instead, it is more likely that he or she will select to be in a traffic jam in a comfortable car.

Such behavior is explained by Innocenti, Lattarulo, and Pazienza (2013) who point out that cars are seen as status symbols, and due to their convenience can be preferred to public transport. The majority of passengers are already accustomed to turnstile gates, but, usually, these are people who do not have the opportunity to choose another type of transportation (Bohari, Bachok, & Osman, 2014). Therefore, most high-income people prefer either a car or another option to reach the required location (Innocenti, Lattarulo, and Pazienza, 2013). These examples clearly show that special conditions should be created to attract high-income population to use public transport that would meet their expectations and even exceed them to remain the preferred means of transportation. Approximately 10% of the UAE population can be included in the group with the highest income, and less than 0.2% of the population control 90% of the wealth (Fanack, 2009). The prestige and quality of the public transport could be increased if high-income populations are attracted to use it as well.

Traffic congestion

The demand for public transport services is constantly growing and will maintain to grow in the UAE, which is due to the processes of urbanization, rising energy prices, and environmental factors (climate change and reduction of resources necessary to power vehicles, such as oil, for example). More to the point, the need for such services will change in the direction of increase by altering social habits, lifestyles, etc., the consideration of which is impeded by traffic congestion (Anderson, 2014). This requires a quick increase in the carrying capacity of transport networks, in particular, reducing traffic congestion during peak hours, which, in turn, requires additional resources for personnel training, development, and implementation of innovative technologies (Holmgren, 2013).

Anderson (2014) claims that providing additional resources on a systematic basis is important for further development and improvement of public transport focused on high-income population and for maintaining and developing services in the long term. In this regard, buses provide an opportunity to easily change the route network in accordance with fluctuations in passenger flows and the organization of routes in new residential areas as well as between them. In other words, public transport for the given population should help in reducing congestion on the roads of Dubai and some parts of the UAE.

Increasing mobility needs

Due to the rapid population growth and development of vast territories (for example, the 300-kilometer coastline in Dubai), the UAE and primarily Dubai expects a fourfold boost in demand for mobility by 2020, namely, up to 22 million trips daily (Tatra-Yug, 2016). In response to the need to provide safe and affordable transport for all that was declared by Road and Transport Authority (RTA), integrated transport management is to be formed. According to Kemp and Stephani (2013), the goal of the latter is to raise the share of public transport in urban passenger traffic from the current six percent to 30 percent by 2020. An ambitious plan for the development of public transport includes the station (318 km), seven tram lines (270 km), the opening of 90 new bus routes (2,500 km), and five new water routes (210 km) for a total investment of ten billion dollars (Kemp & Stephani, 2013). All this is expected to increase the reduction of congestion, and it can also increase the city’s attractiveness as a place to live and work.

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Urban space is the property of the entire population of the city, and public transport uses it more efficiently than private vehicles. Moving along the roads, public transport not only carries its passengers but also frees up the road space for the possibility of using it by all residents and guests of the city. Given the constant urbanization and increased demand for mobility in major cities, traffic congestion in all cities of the world will continue to grow if the approach to mobility is not changed. The direct costs associated with traffic congestion reach up to two percent of GDP, amounting to billions of euro annually (Kemp & Stephani, 2013). Traffic jams take possession of cities: a trip from home to work by car takes 90 times more urban space and infrastructure financed by the company than the same subway ride and 20 times more space than the same trip carried out by bus or tram. If everyone went to work with private vehicles, then the total space necessary for parking cars would be the same as the space necessary for the implementation of all economic activities of the same number of people(Litman, 2016). In fact, the office space per employee is approximately the same as what is needed for a car.

Measures to improve mobility and transport accessibility in cities require significantly less investment than those that are a direct consequence of street congestion. Given the cost of social consequences and external costs, such investments seem to be even more justified (Alessandrini, Campagna, Delle Site, Filippi, & Persia, 2015). Mobility is one of the pivotal criteria for the effectiveness of modern society. Taking into account the actual price of mobility for society and especially those people engaged in business, public transport is undoubtedly the most cost-effective means of achieving urban mobility, which is accessible to all segments of the population (Alessandrini et al., 2015). The need for public transport mobility acts as one more factor that shows cost-effectiveness and potentially great value of public transport solution for people with high-income in the UAE.

Making public transport a preferred mode of transportation

The needs of passengers and their ways of life should form the basis for making decisions on planning, financing, and provision of high-quality transport services (Şimşekoğlu, Nordfjærn, &Rundmo, 2015). Modern consumption patterns create new needs and habits in society. In particular, the population with high-income has an increasingly wide choice between different modes of transportation along with the ability to compare the efficiency of public transport and private vehicles (Parahoo, Harvey, &Radi, 2014).

Their coordinate systems and preferences have become much wider, and they are influenced by the appearance of new directions of service, for example, the Internet or 24-hour stores. Customer orientation is critical for transport companies, allowing them to provide transport services of expected quality (Redman, Friman, Gärling, &Hartig, 2013). Customers need mobility solutions that provide fast, safe, reliable, convenient, and environmentally friendly transport services with an understandable and complete information service. de Oña, de Oña, Eboli, andMazzulla (2013) claim that the key to successful delivery of services by transport companies is their knowledge of the needs of passengers, the quality of transport work, and the continuous implementation of innovative solutions.

Customers also expect more attention and an individual attitude to themselves. Respect and care of transport companies in relation to their customers should be noticeable and comprehensible (Redman et al., 2013). This implies an increase in the experience of service and the reduction of some negative factors, including psychological barriers. Global attractiveness is based on a high quality, availability, flexibility, and a good impression of a passenger from the trip, which in the end should lead to a change in priorities and people’s behaviors. Redman et al. (2013) state that this shift in thinking is necessary in order to ensure that public transport would become a natural choice of the mode of movement for people. The division of customers into target groups and adequate consideration of the interests and needs of each group should help operators to implement high-quality solutions in the field of mobility (de Oña et al., 2014). As a result, it would attract much broader segments of the population far beyond traditional groups that constantly use public transport.

Nol Card System

Nol card is a travel document for Dubai transport, primarily the metro, but also for the rest of RTA vehicles, such as buses. There are four types of Nol cards: red, silver, blue, and gold (see Picture 1).

 Nol Cards released by Dubai ‘s RTA.
Picture 1. Nol Cards released by Dubai ‘s RTA (“RTA extends”, 2017).

Red cards are usually for a one-time trip that includes such options as a trip in one direction, a trip there and back, or a daily card. The disadvantage of the red card is that if one has to travel a lot, then he or she should pay for the form of the card every time. Some people consider it easier then to take One Day Ticket Regular or Business class. While the red card is not replenishable, other variants of Nol card are replenished and differ only in class (“RTA extends”, 2017). For instance, a gold card is for the first class, and it costs approximately twice more than the red one, which allows traveling in a separate special subway car. A person can purchase these cards not only in the ticket office but also directly in information centers, which offer all versions.

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Recently, RTA released a new traveling option for people engaged in business – an autonomous 10-seater vehicle (“RTA extends”, 2017). This vehicle utilizes smart technology and strives to satisfy passengers with a high-quality conditioning system, safety, convenience, and velocity. Likewise in buses, citizens of Dubai and guests may pay with the help of their Nol Cards that provides additional comfort. The new vehicle offers enjoyable experience to customers, while also benefiting the environment as totally environmentally friendly machine. As stressed by Worku (2013), public transport should be effective in different aspects, including passengers, public transport organizations, economic benefits, and environment protection.

The modern development of information technologies in the field of urban public transport allows using the module of an intelligent transport system that allows excluding cash payments and accelerating the process of payment for transportation services (Zambonini& Zafar, 2014). The use of contactless travel systems involves the implementation of special smart cards and reading devices in rolling stock, with which the payment process is initiated. Thus, Zambonini and Zafar (2014) argue that the direction and magnitude of financial flows within the urban passenger transport system, data on the total number of passengers carried, the fluctuations in passenger traffic, as well as the structure of passenger traffic are becoming more transparent and may be used to advance the system.

The use of contactless payment systems and analysis based on the obtained performance data of transport organizations in the systems allows stimulating the quality of servicing passengers on competing routes (“A better efficiency”, 2014). In other words, an environment is created, in which a customer of transport services, when overlaying traffic routes with several carriers, makes a choice in favor of that transport company, which level of service is more acceptable. Such an approach creates a competitive environment among companies that serve urban routes and contributes to the continuous improvement of the quality component (Badra&Badra, 2016).

The advancement of the quality of service on urban passenger transport promotes the positive opinion towards the system and popularizes public transport services, which will work in favor of increasing the volume of the target passenger flow (“A better efficiency”, 2014). At the same time, it is necessary to establish criteria for quality services with mandatory reflection of the set of requirements for every route, and this type of information should be an integral part of the contract (Badra&Badra, 2016). The introduction of an economic incentive mechanism through the use of data obtained from the intelligent transport system and smart cards of passengers is likely to allow initiating changes in passenger service and creating a more positive image of urban public transport systems.

A Dedicated Bus Lane

The creation of a dedicated lane for public transport significantly increases its efficiency and attractiveness to wider populations. However, if buses receive benefits in this case, then overall throughput of the road tends to decrease. The implementation of components of intelligent transport systems (ITS) allows enhancing the principle of priority movement of public transport in the city (Gentile &Noekel, 2016). For example, BRT system used in Tehran proved to be rather successful (Kang, Khodadadifard, &Afandizadeh, 2017). However, BRT system in Delhi failed because it did not achieve the aim of reducing the number of traffic jams in the city and, in general, was ineffective (Misra, 2016). Public transport should have priority over personal vehicles in the search for opportunities for simultaneous expansion of the city’s main transport routes and the allocation of individual lanes for public transport on existing roads with sufficient width of the roadway (Khoo, Teoh, &Meng, 2014; Tirachini, 2013). The introduction of such a system can significantly increase the attractiveness of surface public transport, increasing the most important indicators of its work.

However, the importance of the development and implementation of such decisions is to be backed up by strict administrative measures to limit parking along the allocated lanes and zones along with intersections. Moreover, it is necessary to ensure that the urban territories have a place for temporary storage of personal vehicles(up to several weeks) and improve the quality of the use of public transport to create a competitive advantage to using cars. If the above conditions are not met, the measures are likely to be ineffective and unpopular in the public sphere (Guo, 2013).

In case there are no serious measures to implement the project for the development of convenient public system of high-speed extra-urban transport, more and more people will change from ground-based public transport to passenger cars, exacerbating the problem of traffic congestion by occupying more urban space on roads, interchanges, overpasses, and parking. The allocation of a dedicated bus lane makes it possible to reduce the delays of public transport by improving the conditions for the movement of buses without requiring severe financial costs. The analysis of transport delays has shown that when moving along the allocated bands, transport delays will decrease significantly with a slight decrease in the duration of transport delays due to optimization of the traffic signal cycles.

In the last few years, the concept of bus lanes with intermittent priority (BLIP) gains popularity in large cities where traffic congestion is the major problem in the transportation area. The essence of BLIP system lies in the organization of the joint use of the priority lane by buses and individual transport, depending on the bus occupancy with the help of Information Technology Services (ITS) support (Ma, Head, & Feng, 2014). Traffic control on such a lane is carried out according to a specific algorithm. In the absence of buses in this sector, all lanes are open for the movement of individual transport and other modes of transport. When a bus approaches the BLIP, it is activated by means of controlled road signs and built-in road markings of cataphytes. On guided road signs, the requirement is shown for individual transport to release the priority lane, and the cataphytes show the length of the active section. By the time the bus approaches the priority lane, it is free of individual cars.If the car does not leave the priority lane on time, a corresponding fine will be imposed.

To implement the mentioned priority movement method, there is a need to determine several parameters, including the optimal ratio of traffic volumes of individual and public transport, critical intensity of transport flow, the length of each section, and the distance of the bus to the beginning of the priority lane, on which it is necessary to activate this section. Ma et al. (2014) state that the data obtained makes it possible to verify that the intensity of flow is higher in the BLIP scenario than in the scenario with a constant dedicated bus lane (see Figure 1).

BLIP
Figure 1. BLIP (bus demand – high occupancy) (Ma et al., 2014).

In addition, when the intensity of movement reaches a certain index, a sudden drop in speed occurs. Therefore, it is significant to define the critical traffic flow intensity depending on the frequency of the buses as it is one of the key factors limiting the implementation of BLIP system (Qiu, Li, Zhang, Zhang, &Xie, 2015). It should be emphasized that the selection of the road network sections, on which it is intended to create a BLIP, should be thorough and preceded by appropriate research and modeling, allowing determining the optimal parameters of its design. As noted by Gentile and Noekel (2016), one of the mandatory conditions is also availability of components of ITS.

In other words, BLIP ensures one of the most important features that are critical to Emirati population with high-income and guests of the country – rapid movement between different locations (Wirasingheetal., 2013). Since they would be able to timely sign contracts and conduct business meetings, BLIP option seems to be actually value-adding. More to the point, there is a tendency of increasing the mentioned population and also the presence of non-Emirati high-income persons visiting the country as tourists, business partners, and other interested parties. For the latter, it may be sometimes difficult to navigate in a new country, and there may be a challenge of reaching the desired location in a timely manner. In this regard, a dedicated bus lane with intermittent priority presents a rather advantageous means of transportation.

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