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Students on board for Dubai Metro.

Byline: Rania Moussly, Staff reporter

Not only is it cutting travel costs and saving time, but the new mass transit system is bringing the student community together like never before.

The Dubai Metro will not only facilitate easy travel, it will change the way UAE society interacts. For students it alleviates hassles for their parents and themselves, but also offers them the opportunity to meet people from other universities, encouraging the UAE's budding student culture.

The Metro poses an interesting research opportunity to investigate the cultural impact a new mass transit system will have on society, said University of Wollongong in Dubai vice president of administration Raymi van Der Spek.

"You will get many different classes of people travelling together, which has never happened in Dubai or anywhere in the Emirates before." The Metro being a cheaper mode of transport will also be a draw card.


Helping students cut costs

UOWD was the first to roll out an initiative to support the Dubai Metro by encouraging students to accept it as their primary mode of transportation.

A free shuttle bus service available to all UOWD students and staff waits outside the Dubai Knowledge Village (DKV) campus at 30-minute intervals. It carries almost 30 passengers per trip to the nearest open station, which is at the Mall of the Emirates (MoE). On the first day of operations 20 per cent of the university's total undergraduate student body travelled via the Metro.

Campus Notes took a ride on the shuttle bus to experience the students' new commute. It was apparent that some had already assimilated into the Metro culture with white headphones plugged into their ears and a book in hand - a sight more common on the London Underground than in sunny Dubai.

Kevin Paul and his friends have been travelling on the Metro since its launch. They find that it saves on travel time and leaves them with more money to spend on other things. Paul's commute from Karama to DKV on the Metro takes 20 minutes - it previously took an hour by university bus or taxi.

The university bus service used to cost Paul Dh800 a month, added to which was a Dh45 taxi fare whenever he missed the bus. In comparison the Metro definitely wins first place for frugality with one trip costing just Dh4. "If I can save Dh800 for six months I can pay the fees for one of my subjects," said Paul.


Banishing materialism?

Middlesex University Dubai, also located in DKV, is still in the process of launching a similar service at the start of its new semester in October.

However, institutions such as the Canadian University of Dubai (CUD) and the American University in Dubai (AUD) have no need for such preparations. They are lucky enough to have stations right at their doorsteps. Even so, it is unclear whether students who drive to university will give up their cars for an alternative and cheaper mode of travel.

Yassmine Mebar, a student at CUD, drew a comparison between Bangkok's Skytrain and the Metro. She said that although the Skytrain is not as nice looking as the Metro, it is used by a large portion of the population.

"The young generation in the UAE has a materialistic mentality. If it looks good we use it and if it doesn't we won't," she said.

Mebar went on to say that the state-of-the-art trains and stations could help change stereotypes about the UAE's public transport system. She said the Metro opens up the idea that public transport is no longer "low-class" or something to be disregarded.

Similarly Lavina Phulwani, who studies at AUD, believes the Metro may shift student focus from luxury to convenience. Phulwani said in some ways the Metro does cater to the population's high expectations with options such as Gold Class travel. However, "it's not about how rich you are; it's about how smart you are," she said. "Even if you are rich the Metro is more convenient. If you use your car you waste time, and time is money in Dubai."


Considering the environment

UOWD vice-president van Der Spek said a personal reason driving him to encourage students to switch to the Metro is his concern for the environment. He thinks it a more environmentally-friendly approach to transporting masses of people.

Another way his administration is working to coax students to use the Metro was suggesting an agreement to the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to grant the university rights to issue student travel passes and tickets. However, officials from the RTA were not available for comment and van Der Spek said that no such arrangement had been finalised.

Staying safe

Despite all its high-tech features, there are still concerns about safety on the Metro. Student Abdul Waqas from UOWD said the early malfunctions have caused him some concern but have yet to deter him from using the Metro.

However they have deterred Aliah Al Laham from the American University of Sharjah, who has decided wait until all kinks were ironed out.

Manar Al Majedi from Sharjah Women's College said she would never depend on the Metro and give up the use of her car, because she would only feel safe travelling by car. Similar are the worries of some parents. Nahid Mebar, mother of Yassmine Mebar from CUD, said once all the stations are open, she will feel better about letting her daughter travel on the Metro regularly; but for now the idea is a bit worrying. "She is too precious to me, I don't want her to be harassed by anyone."



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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Sep 20, 2009
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