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Public Transportation: Getting Around in Dubai

Dubai International Airport is the world’s busiest in terms in international passenger traffic. With that in mind, I was expecting to be a bit flustered upon my recent arrival. However, I was pleasantly surprised.  The airport is bright and well-organized. Signs and announcements are in both English and Arabic and easy to follow, and everyone speaks English. I got through baggage claim and customs without incident, exchanged my currency, and then followed the signs to ground transportation.  I expected a confusing gauntlet of drivers blocking my way while holding their name signs.  Instead, the drivers were cordoned off in an unobtrusive area to my right. I found the one holding the sign with my name on it, and off we went.

The Metro system started operating in 2009 as an answer to Dubai’s increasingly heavy car traffic. The trains are on the upper deck of high-ceilinged stations that are spacious and airy. There are escalators, elevators, and stairs to get up to the platform. All signs and announcements, as in the airport, are in English as well as Arabic. Each station has an information booth, and paper schedules and route maps are readily available. (Although there is a convenience store at the entrance of each station, it should be noted that eating, drinking, or chewing gum is not permitted on the platforms or trains.)  Access to the train platform is granted by tapping the Metro pass at the turnstile. Tap the pass again at the turnstile after exiting the train.  

Dubai Metro train platform

There are three types of cabins. The majority of cars are Standard (silver) class, which is included in our Expo 2020 packages. There is also a First class (gold) car, and, at the end of each train, a Women and Children’s (pink) car. The car designations are marked on the platform floor in front of each door. Boarding the wrong car could result in a fine. It is considered polite to let people exit from the center of the door and enter to their right or left. Other points of etiquette or rules of conduct can be found in brochures at each station.

Standard Class cabin on the Dubai Metro

Bus transportation is also included on Metro passes. I spent one day exploring parts of the city not on the Metro line.  There are local trip-planning apps available, but I relied on Google to get around. I typed in Souk Madinat Jumeirah and discovered that, from my hotel, the best route would be to take the Metro to the Mall of The Emirates, then transfer to a city bus. I headed out for the short walk to the nearest Metro station.  

The bus stop at the mall was a parking lot where many busses converged. Each one had its own clearly marked stop and shaded bench. There was an office manned by staff who sold passes and provided assistance with route planning. Route numbers and destinations were displayed above the front window of each bus, alternating between English and Arabic.  I tapped my metro pass as I boarded the air-conditioned bus, and again as I exited the back door.

I spent a few hours enjoying the Madinat Jumeirah resort, shopping in the souk and having lunch along the canal that meanders through the property. After my meal I decided to venture further south to the Dubai Marina.  Using the restaurant’s Wi-Fi to determine my next move, I discovered that the bus stop I needed was a few blocks away, in front of the Burj Al-Arab hotel. Walking in that direction, I found it easily.  Instead of a bus stop bench, an enclosed, air-conditioned seating chamber greeted me.   

The Dubai Taxi Corporation is the official government -licensed taxi company of Dubai.  The cabs are recognizable by their cream-colored bodywork, though the color of the roofs will vary. Other companies that operate in Dubai are Uber and Careem (a taxi company owned by Uber). The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA)’s S’hail app gives approximate fares for all three.

Taxis can be booked by phone or online. There are also 51 official taxi ranks scattered throughout Dubai, in public areas including malls, hospitals, and Metro stations. I decided to take a taxi back to my hotel, but since there were no taxi ranks nearby, a hotel doorman directed me to a likely street corner to hail one. I don’t come from a city where cabs can be hailed.  After a few feeble attempts, I noticed a security guard grabbing a cab for another woman and asked if he could help me.  He immediately waded out into the second lane of rush hour traffic, stopped a passing cab by stepping in front of it, and waived me over to it.  Grateful as I was, stepping out in front of oncoming traffic is not something I would ever do, nor recommend to anyone else!

After a brief stop at my hotel, I headed out again to visit the Dubai Mall.  I walked back to the Metro station and breezed through like the seasoned traveler I now was. I enjoyed my visit to the mall, and it was close to midnight when I made my way back to the hotel. When the train showed up at the station, it was very full, with the exception of the Women and Children’s car.  It’s available to any woman who chooses, and I took advantage of it. Aside from the pink signs and the extra room for strollers, the car looked like any other Standard class car.

The current Metro system is being expanded to include Route 2020, a direct line to Expo 2020. Located directly across from one of the main entrances, the new Expo 2020 Metro station will be the largest in the system. Based on the ease of using the Metro, and judging from car traffic on the roads, the Metro will be the easiest and most convenient way to attend the event. 

Joan Thompson, Expo Sales Executive
Ya’lla Tours USA

Posted on February 14, 2020

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