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Public Transport in Dubai

Dubai’s local public transport is operated by the Roads and Transport Authority and consists of the Dubai metro, buses, waterbuses and abras (water taxis). RTA offers a ‘One-Day in Dubai’ pass, allowing travellers to use all means of public transport, covering the main city sights.

To use the metro, bus or tram service you must purchase a Nol Card, (a smart card that enables you to pay for the use of various RTA transport modes). You can also use your Nol Card to travel on Dubai’s water taxi’s and pay for RTA parking.

There are four categories of the Nol Card – Silver, Blue, Gold and Red. The type of card right for you will depend on your frequency of travel and zones you travel in.

Dubai Metro

The Dubai Metro opened in 2010 and has been a great success. Since it was launched there has been a continual increase in the number of passengers that use it each year.

Currently there are two lines – the green line and the red line, but there are plans to build more lines in the future and also to extend the existing lines to other residential communities. There are four standard cars to each train and one that is divided into a women-only section and a ‘Gold Class’ section for people wanting to travel more VIP, in a carriage with leather seats.

The trains run approximately every 10 minutes from 6am to 11pm Saturday to Thursday, and 1pm to midnight on Fridays. Fares vary from AED 2.00 – AED 6.50. Gold Class tickets are more expensive, up to AED 15.00 per trip.

Local Buses

The RTA operates local buses on 79 routes, primarily serving the needs of low-income commuters. Buses are clean, comfortable, air-conditioned and cheap but tend not to be widely used by western expats, as they are slow.

Monorail

There is a monorail located on the Palm Jumeirah, which runs from the start of the Palm to the Atlantis Hotel. Visitors can park in the monorail car park and travel on the monorail to visit the Atlantis Hotel. The journey takes around ten minutes and costs AED 15 (AED 25 round trip).

There is now a bridge for pedestrians to walk across from the monorail to the new tram in Dubai Marina, which enables access from the tram to the metro.

Water Transport

There are several types of water transport services in Dubai, used by residents and tourists of the city.

Abras

Abras are traditional wooden boats, and are considered to be the oldest method of transport in the city. You can travel in either a motorized or rowing Abra across the Creek, linking Bur Dubai and Deira. Abras carry around around 20 passengers and generally leave when full, which rarely takes more than a few minutes. The fare is very economical, costing just Dh1 and you pay the driver halfway across the Creek. Chartering your own abra costs Dh100 per hour. Modern Abras with air-conditioning are more expensive (minimum fare Dh50) and are available to ride across the Creek between 10am and 10pm each day.

Water Bus

The water buses used in Dubai are highly advanced and modern, providing comfortable transportation for passengers.

You are able to book a trip on the water taxis online or by telephone. When booked, the water taxi will come to the station closest to your location – operating in Dubai Marina and Dubai Creek. Services are available from 10AM to 10PM.

Dubai Ferry

The Dubai Ferry is more focused on attracting tourists than providing an additional method of public transport. It does however tour around areas of local interest so its definitely worth a trip on. The Ferry services are available in Al Ghubaiba and Dubai Marina; services have also recently been developed to take public transport users from one port to the other. 

Driving in the UAE

Most expats drive in Dubai as a necessity because public transport doesn’t always take you from door to door. Although the metro opened in 2009 and connects the major hubs of the city, there are many residential areas, which are still a long distance from the metro line.

When driving in Dubai there are several things you need to be aware of – firstly, there are a lot of big 4×4 vehicles on the road and the drivers are of many different nationalities from all over the world, used to their own countries style of driving  – so you need to be aware of the driving etiquette, especially before attempting the busy highways. Be aware that the rules of the road in your home country more than likely do not apply in the UAE! Most people opt to drive a medium to large size vehicle as a safety precaution, so you may want to consider this when leasing or buying yourself.

There are several major highways in Dubai, which then link to the minor roads and connect the city. The major highways that unite Dubai to the other Emirates are designated Emirates routes (or E-routes). One way of identifying a major highway is by its road sign – an emblem of a falcon, with the letter E and a two or three digit number.

The minor road’s connect localities within the city of Dubai and are identified by the road sign with the emblem of a fort, followed by the letter D and a two or three digit number. D-routes provide an intercity network of roads and streets and are considerably shorter in length than the average E-route highway. E 11 (Sheikh Zayed Road) is the longest of the E-route roads, extending the length of the UAE’s Persian Gulf coast and connecting all of the emirates, with the exception of Al Fujairah. This highway is extremely popular because of its accessibility to all areas, despite being the only toll road in Dubai.  The SZR toll road payment method is called Salik and as part of the road system, is managed by the RTA. Vehicles using Salik are charged each time they pass through a toll, where funds are automatically deducted from their Salik pass. Every vehicle in Dubai requires a Salik pass, which is always displayed in the window of the vehicle.

Most of the roads are now clearly signed and have street names so it is easier to find your way around, particularly as Google Maps has become increasing popular and much more accurate than it was a few years ago. You are now able to find the majority of locations easily and less likely to spend hours getting lost! It is however very useful to always carry a map and be aware of major landmarks to guide you in the right direction, should you need them to.

Another important thing to remember in Dubai is that there is a zero tolerance policy when it comes to driving under the influence of alcohol. Unlike some other countries around the world, it is illegal to consume any amount of alcohol and then drive a vehicle. If you break this law and you’re caught, there will be a heavy penalty to pay – imprisonment and a hefty fine – at minimum, so it really is advisable to use an alternative way to get home such as a taxi, or a buddy service, where a company will meet you and drive your car home for you! These services are relatively inexpensive and a definite recommendation to use!

Taxi  Service in the UAE

There are 5 official taxi companies in Dubai and around 9000 taxi’s, making it easy to book a cab or flag one down in the street. Taxis in Dubai are relatively inexpensive and work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also now book a taxi using the new RTA smart taxi app, which makes it easier for the driver to find your location and the location of your destination.

5 things to remember when using Dubai taxis:

  • All legitimate RTA taxi’s are of cream colour with a different coloured roof (red, blue, green) and all have a unique number on the back of the car – its worth making a note of this incase you leave something behind. Do not get into a taxi that doesn’t look like this – chances are, it wont be a taxi!
  • Carry change! Often taxi drivers do not carry enough change so ask the driver when you get in the taxi and if needs be stop somewhere to break a large note.
  • Make sure the taxi driver knows where he is going! There are lots of new taxi drivers in Dubai and there can sometimes be confusion when going to new districts, or simply misunderstanding the destination in the first place. Different residential areas tend to have similar names, such as ‘Dubai Marina’ and ‘Dubai Marine’ (which are opposite ends of town) so its always good to be sure the driver has heard you correctly by repeating yourself or naming a close by landmark.
  • Taxis are not legally aloud to turn down a fare, regardless of the distance – but some do. If you’re not going far, offer a bigger tip so it makes it worthwhile for the driver. Also remember that taxi’s have a built in meter so make sure its running or your journey is free!
  • If using a hotel taxi (these are usually white Lexus vehicles) make sure you pre-negotiate the rate with the driver before you start your journey. These private taxis are usually a lot more expensive than normal cabs and often they will let you haggle the price.

Uber / Careem in the UAE?

Uber and Careem are the 2 most popular private taxi services at the moment, although more appear to be coming to the UAE.

With both companies, you can order a car using their app on your phone and make payment automatically through the app. In Dubai, this service means your ride will be in a more luxurious car (typically a Lexus vehicle) and you can opt for the type of vehicle you require (economy or business) however, you are often upgraded to business if a vehicle is close by. 

Similar to the new Makani App system RTA has launched, Uber and Careem use sat navigation to find your location in the city. Mostly drivers are experienced, speak good English and know Dubai well, so your journey is comfortable and stress-free, which particularly helps if you’re new to the country and are not familiar with the areas yourself.

Buying a car v’s renting a car in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

When you are new to a country and essentially starting a new life, with a new home and a new job, most people also need to consider their new vehicle. 

On first arrival, it’s generally easier to hire a car with your international/home country driving licence, but once you have completed all the necessary formalities and acquired a UAE driving licence, the question is whether to buy your own vehicle or continue renting? Obviously this comes down to personal choice but you also have to weigh up the contributing factors. The important thing is not to rush; many expats lease for six months until they feel more settled and then make the decision, which is commonly based on how long they see themselves living in the country.

Renting a vehicle is definitely an easier option, a small deposit is required and payments (along with Salik charges) are made monthly, so you can return the car at anytime. This option however is typically much more expensive than buying your own vehicle. Expats find when buying the equivalent version of vehicle, making payments on finance are much lower, although having said that, make sure you shop around. If you’re financing a vehicle, compare bank interest rates and down payments as some bank offer better deals than others. Another deciding factor will be service fees, part replacement costs, vehicle insurance and annual registration. Owning a vehicle also means you take responsibility of paying for these things yourself, whereas when renting, the leasing company take care of everything.

You can also often negotiate little extras such as insurance to be included, there’s no harm in trying! The majority of dealerships can be found along Sheizh Zayed Road and most sell new and used vehicles, running promotions throughout the year on different models. Ramadan is also a very good time of year to purchase a car because it is typically slow for the trade and therefore all dealerships have great promotions throughout the holy month.

Whether you decide to buy or rent, do make sue you drive safely on the busy roads! Ensure to always fasten your seat belts and follow the rules of the road from the RTA (Road and Transport Authority) to keep yourself safe!