The giant leap that takes the city a long distance

(Sajila Saseendran)
Filed on February 8, 2011

DUBAI — When Dubai Municipality (DM) observed the first Car Free Day on February 17, 2010, Khaleej Times called it “a small step for Dubai, but a giant leap for Dubai Municipality”.

It indeed was a giant leap for the civic body as officials have now revealed that the initiative saved the city from the emission of three tonnes of carbon dioxide. That was because 1,500 employees of DM, including Hussain Nasser Lootah, Director-General, and senior officials ditched their cars for a day and rode Metro and buses to reach the municipality headquarters.

However, we found out that the initiative has actually had a much wider impact the following days as at least seven per cent of those who observed the first Car-Free Day then started using the Metro to and from office everyday. And the municipality is paying for their trips to office every month.

“We now have 105 DM employees using the Metro everyday. DM has given free Nol cards for them and every month they get Dhs120 for adding to their Nol credits,” said Tariq Mohammed Noor Obeid, the Supervisor for DM’s Security Office.

Transport sector contributes to 42 per cent of the air pollution in the emirate and each vehicle generates 110 to 250 gramme of carbon dioxide per kilometre. In that case, these regular Metro users from DM have avoided pumping out millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide to Dubai’s atmosphere so far.

Hamdan Khalifa Al Shaer, Director of Environment Department at DM, who proposed the idea of the Car Free Day, is now a happy man as more than 100 employees working at DM headquarters are now regular Metro users.

Instead of limiting the initiative to just one day, the Metro ride should be taken up as a lifestyle, he had said last year. “We have a wonderful public transport infrastructure here in Dubai. It is just that people are not making enough use of it due to some sort of social barriers they feel. We need to break those barriers and change our culture. Only then can the government’s initiative find its real objectives,” Al Shaer had said.

He knew that forcing people to ditch their cars is not an easy task and the great idea will not be a success unless the municipality takes a strong measure to ensure the commitment of every employee driving his or her car to the DM headquarters. That is how the municipality decided to close all its parking lots, which see around 2000 cars parked every regular working day, on the Car Free Day. No place to park meant that no point driving cars to the office for them.

Employees whose work includes field activities were exempted from the Car Free Day last year. For others, it was a must to join their seniors who showed the example. Though it was a compulsory obligation, the first Car Free Day was “a fun ride day” for civic employees as most of them rode the Metro with their colleagues. And the municipality also made sure that it gave ample incentives for those taking part in the green initiative.

Twenty lucky municipal employees were given a cash award of Dh250 after being chosen as “Green Winners” of a raffle draw held as part of the incentives to the participants.

Al Shaer said the Metro ride also helped in boosting the bond among employees. In fact, he said, it was on that day many of the DM employees met some of their colleagues working in other departments for the first time.

Award-winning idea

According to Lootah, the DM’s Car Free Day idea “paved the steps towards enhancing opportunities for sustainable urban transport and improving air quality in urban areas as well as reducing carbon dioxide emission that contributes to climate change.” It also bagged the Ideas.Arabia Award in the environmental ideas category last year.

Applauding the DM’s creative idea focused to change the mindset and the culture of the public in using public transport, the organisers said the level of support and commitment by the Dubai Municipality leadership made the effort a true standout idea.

As the civic body is gearing up for its second Car Free Day tomorrow, officials hope there would be more takers for regular Metro rides.

“Our Director-General wants more people to use the Metro. He has given me the green signal to give this transport allowance to all interested,” said Obeid. —

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