The UITP MENA Transport Congress & Exhibition (25-27 April 2016) took place in Dubai and was organised by UITP and RTA. The event attracted 528 delegates from 34 countries, 85 exhibitors and more than 2,000 visitors bringing together both regional and international transport experts.
One of the main takeaways from the biennial event was the urgency to find congestion-cutting solutions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Cities in the MENA region are seeing rapid urbanisation and the population is expected to continue increasing. The Jordanian capital of Amman, for example, has seen its population double from 2005-2015. At the same time, economic growth combined with the relatively low cost of car ownership is leading to increasing motorisation. Consequently, public transport and non-motorised modes will be crucial to limit traffic and congestion, which has already reached alarming levels in many capitals across the MENA region.
"The big issue in the MENA region is that we have cheap oil which has pushed against public transport for decades but congestion is something we need to deal with whatever the oil price,” said Eng. Khalid Alhogail, Chairmain of the UITP MENA Region and CEO-Board Director of Saudi Public Transport Company. “Here we see the challenge because we need to build big networks in a very short time and cities are becoming crowded and congested because of an absence of transport.”
The role of governance and the issue of financing were key topics of discussion at the event and the main recommendations were for cities to play a leading role in establishing a vision for public transport.
The event opened with news from His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai that by 2030 25% of all trips would be smart and driverless (including by driverless metro). Indeed, technology and smart cities were also key focus points with participants agreeing that technology should act as an enabler helping public transport to better match supply to demand, improve and optimise operations and enhance the customer experience.
The importance of providing safe and efficient school transport was also widely touched upon. The event served to highlight the importance of the school bus in reducing congestion and making young people acquainted with public transport, whilst looking in detail at the technological and regulatory solutions at hand to enhance safety and service quality.
Despite congestion issues in the region, the event also gave the participants cause for optimism. Major public transport development projects across the region – such as Riyadh’s planned six metro and three Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines and Amman's new bus and electric taxi fleet - are already bearing fruit: in Dubai, for example, sustained efforts have seen public transport usage increase by 215% from 2006-2015.
Keynote speaker Joseph Kopser, President of Moovel, concluded with the following words: "If I’ve learned one thing from this event it’s that the troubles and challenges we face are really universal. The role of transportation is not to create divisions but to bring us together. The solution is a combination of government, civilians, the private sector and entrepreneurs. We can gain so many lessons from the past – we’ve built transit systems then abandoned them to make way for the automobile. We’ve put a lot of money into making it easier for the car but what are we going to do to make it easier for people? If we make it too easy for the car, we just incentivise people".