Thursday, January 31, 2008

Shops at mosques

I'm intrigued by one of the things that I see increasingly around town - mosques with a commercial establishment as part of the complex.

Most often it seems to be a food outlet of some sort - cafe, restaurant, grocery store.

Here's one on Al Wasl Road:

And attached to a very small mosque on Beach Road, the Chalet restaurant - a favourite of ours, we go there quite often.

I assume the rent collected goes towards the mosque and I don't remember seeing it in the old days. Does anyone know how it all works? Is it something new?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Here's the answer

Just a PS to my last post about the disastrous mis-use of the emergency numbers.

One of the comments was:

Rose in Dubai said...

My problem is, if you need the police and you're not anywhere near a phone book what number do you use? Its not a number I carry in my head, or on my phone for that matter (maybe I should).

Maybe another easy number for non-emergencies would be a good idea??

I have the answer in my wallet, credit card size, but I can't remember how I came by it.


But the job was only half done.

The information prepared in easy-to-carry form and it was obviously available because I got hold of one.

This is something that should be part of the public awareness campaign I was talking about.

It should be printed in millions and freely available everywhere.

Crisis with emergency numbers

There's a hugely important story in Gulf News this morning. The mis-use of the emergency numbers.

The paper reports that more than half a million calls were made to 999 last year - a staggering 573,471 calls. That's 1,571 a day!

The vast majority were not about emergencies, obviously.

The root cause of the problem is indicated by the examples of some of the calls given in the report.

The cause is lack of knowledge.

People from different societies around the world, some from remote rural villages, simply don't understand what the emergency numbers are for. And no-one has thought to tell them.

I had a personal example when a crane was set up blocking the car park in my building. I asked our security man to tell them to move it to a more acceptable position, which they refused. He called the police, which was actually enough to make them move it without the police coming.

I asked him which police station he'd phoned and he told me he'd called 999.

Amazed, I asked him why he'd called the emergency number. He looked bemused and told me that's the number you call if you need the police.

Examples given in the paper are people trying to get information about something - Etisalat's number, the speed limit on a particular road, taxis won't stop so what do I do and so on.

So back to my point about lack of knowledge.

There needs to be a campaign, there always was a need, to educate people about the emergency numbers, what they are, what they're for.

And what they're not for.

What I mean is not the usual half-hearted, amateur efforts we see all too often. I mean a professionally formulated campaign, using not just a few ads in a few newspapers but a fully integated campaign aimed at all segments of our society. In addition to advertisements on radio, TV and in the press it also needs an ongoing PR campaign, brochures, outdoor, notices in labour camps and so on - and in the appropriate languages.

I'm sure most companies would come to the party and not charge for something that's a vital public service campaign, so it needn't be expensive. Even if it is, the investment would be justified.

Lack of communication

Education is simply communication, and the lack of communication is a huge problem in Dubai.

Companies and departments simply don't bother to communicate. Getting clear, concise, timely information is like getting blood from a stone.

Not only is information not available, people don't know where to go to find it.

Hence the mis-use of the emergency numbers.

They are official numbers that people know. A person, not a machine, will respond so there's a human being who may be able to answer your question.

Communication is an area that needs urgent attention.

The full story is here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Getting to grips with inflation

I've been banging on about the effects of inflation on business, and the economy in general, for a while, so it's good to see that important people are now going public with their concerns.

And it's very good to see the media actually reporting it.

They've previously taken the tabloid approach, even in the business pages - how inflation is affecting the 'common man' (how I hate that phrase) as the price of consumer items rises. It's been the same with the dirham/dollar peg, the stories almost all about the value of salaries dropping.

That's a real populist simplistic discussion. The real problem is the disastrous effect of inflation on the economy, on growth, on the very future of Dubai which is based entirely on our commercial success.

Without that success there won't be the jobs, the opportunities for people.

Today there's a report from Merrill Lynch, basically saying the Gulf states are getting it wrong, particularly the insistence on keeping the dollar peg, which is made worse by the refusal to revalue local currencies.

The peg means we don't have our own monetary policy, we slavishly follow American policies even though the economies are going at express speed in opposite directions.

The recent interest rate cut is a classic example of the problem. The US economy is plummeting south and they need to get more money moving around. Our economy is booming but in danger of overheating so we need to increase interest rates to slow the flow of money.

But we have to follow the US move and cut rates, throwing petrol on the fire.

There are worrying reports again today that as further interest rate cuts are probable in the US they'll be cut here again.

Contrary to the view expressed in the region, Merrill Lynch say that the pegs have become the main source of inflation.

Yesterday Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, speaker of the UAE Federal National Council and CEO of Mashraq, was quoted in an interview with Reuters as pointing out that: "Inflation is our enemy No. 1...We really need to manage our control over inflation."

Other bankers have been warning of the dangers of inflation too, so it seems the seriousness of the situation is at last being discussed openly. And that can only be a good thing.

Refusal to allow price rises - even though raw material prices are increasing - and caps on things like cinema tickets are not addressing the problem. We really have to get to grips with the major causes of the problem, we need to take control of our own destiny. We're becoming an increasinly important business centre and we need to take control of our own economy.

Here's more detailed information:

Inflation a major policy challenge.

Inflation UAE's biggest enemy.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

More great planning

There's another - yet another - example of the lack of communication, the lack of planning, that causes so many problems to business and to people in general here in Dubai.

There's a report in EmBiz247 today about the Palm Jumeirah monorail, saying that over 90% of the work has been completed. The 5.4 kilometre track runs along the palm's trunk out to the top of the crescent.

Work only started in 2006, so the engineers and the construction gangs have done a great job.

And the planners?

Just to backtrack for a second, Jumeirah Palm's population in its hotels and residences is projected at more than 70,000. The monorail will initially carry up to 2,400 people per hour in each direction, which at full capacity will rise to 6,800.

So we're talking about a lot of people living on and moving on & off the island.

The RTA's Public transport system of metro, bus, tram and water is also well under way - metro more than 50% built, thousands of buses ordered, tram routes finalised and so on.

So those things were all carefully thought about, discussed and planned way back at the beginning, right?

Today's report tells us that 'a senior spokesperson' for Nakheel said...wait for it..."discussions were ongoing over how The Palm Jumeirah monorail system can connect with the Dubai Metro or with the Al Sufouh tram line."

Yep, it's all into the final stages of construction and discussions are ongoing about how and with what they can actually connect.

So the initial plan was what? Thousands of people each hour get off the monorail at the end of the Trunk...and...?

Didn't the planners communicate with each other right at the beginning? You know, stuff like "we're both planning mass tranport systems, how can we connect them?" Why are they in discussion at this late stage?

My head hurts thinking about it. You can read it all for yourselves here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Improving the labourer's lot

The situation regarding lower paid workers is the subject of discussions in Abu Dhabi, where twenty-two nations representing labour importing and exporting countries are meeting. It's another of those 'catch-up' areas where laws and actions are way behind the times.

In fact the countries involved have been sending or receiving labour for decades so the improvements are long overdue.

A big problem was highlighted and it's one that plagues businesses in all industries in this region - the lack of hard data. It's difficult to formulate policies if you don't have hard facts on the details of the problem.

One particular area that's long needed attention is unscrupulous agents - usually in the supplying country - who in simple terms mislead and rip off the workers. They charge huge amounts and make promises of salaries and conditions that simply don't exist. The worker gets here to find the situation is far different from the promise, but because s/he is in debt to the tune of thousands of dollars can do nothing about it.

One excellent move is that the UAE will establish processing centres in labour sending countries where applicants will be given local knowledge about where they're going, have labour contracts explained and their eligibility for employment confirmed. They'll also receive literature in their local languages.

In Dubai there'll be a follow-up, in that centres will be established this year in the main labour accommodation areas to provide information on labourers' rights and responsibilities . Inspections of labour accommodation will also increase dramatically - another essential development - with some 100 camps to be checked monthly. Last year over a third of the accommodation checked was found to be in bad condition.

So, governments at both ends of the supply chain are finally getting to grips with what all to often often turns out to be a human tragedy.

Off at a tangent

And thinking of health and safety, there's also news from Abu Dhabi about jaywalkers being fined. Nothing wrong with that, far too many pedestrians are being killed each month.

But it does raise the question of exactly what the word 'jaywalking' means here. If it refers to people crossing roads in city centres where there are pedestrian crossings, then I agree with it. With the proviso that motorists are educated that they must stop to allow pedestrians to cross on designated crossings. And draconian punishment if they don't.

That was brought home to me on our recent UK/Europe holiday - after a couple of years back in Dubai I was startled that motorists gave way to pedestrians on crossings, something that I didn't even think about before we came back here. Here it's the norm for the pedestrian to wait for the road to be completely clear before stepping onto the crossing.

But if 'jaywalking' also applies to the poor fools who try to dash across freeways, that's a different story. I know it's crazy and I know they get killed, but just think about it. You're a labourer on one side of Sheikh Zayed Road and you need to get to the other side. How do you get there? There are no crossings. No bridges or underpasses. So what do you do?

Even if you walk kilometres to the nearest interchange, they're for vehicles not pedestrians.

Putting fences down the centre was never the right answer. They still have no way to cross safely so they dash across anyway and climb the fence.

We know that the majority of road deaths are pedestrians, the problem and the solution have been discussed endlessly. In Dubai we had fifty-six pedestrian deaths in the first six months of 2007. The RTA is saying that it will build seventeen pedestrian bridges and that they're planning to spend more than Dh70 million to construct pedestrian crossings.

Huge traffic interchanges are going up, but constructing simple, easy pedestrian bridges seems to be in the too-hard basket. Surely dozens of crossings could have gone up in a matter of weeks.

You'll find the full stories here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I'm confused...

Don't the maids in Jumeirah have their own shower room?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A nice little earner

There's a PS to my Friday posting on owning property in Dubai in today's EmBiz247 front-page report.

A senior official from the Land Department has clarified that buyers in what's known in Dubai as the secondary property market - that is, people not buying direct from the developer but from the current owner - do not have to pay a transfer fee to the developer.

Amazingly, that's been the practice in the past with developers charging between 1% and 3% of their original sale price. And along with maintenance fees that's been a very good source of additional income for them.

"There is no need to pay any transfer fee to master developers or sub-developers for secondary sales," said Mohammed Sultan Thani, the department’s director of development and marketing administration. "All the parties need to do is come and register their sales titles with us. All they have to bring is a no-objection certificate from the developer, which costs Dh500. They then pay a one per cent transfer fee to the department."

So that's another of the unacceptable areas of the real estate market cleared up.

I wonder whether it's always been the case and if not whether the rule is retrospective. A lot of people have paid a lot of money to master & sub-developers in the past - can they claim it back I wonder...

You'll find the story here.

Now it's ' The Universe '

Land reclamation isn't new - the Dutch have been doing it for many years, Singapore has changed shape dramatically with all the reclamation done there. But if you'll excuse the pun, Dubai really pushes the boundaries.

Nakheel has just announced the creation of 'The Universe', another massive offshore project. (I hate that name by the way, I hope they change it to something more appropriate).

Another dredging operation, this will take 15 to 20 years to complete and will add 3,000 hectares of new land. Stretching from Palm Jumeirah to Port Rashid - what would that be, about 25 kilometres I guess - it will curve between The World and the mainland.

It's going to be another series of islands, these designed on the shapes of coral.

In true Dubai style their website has no information on the project. You'd think that companies would get everything ready so that when they make an annoucement their websites would instantly be up-to-date. But not in Dubai, our companies' minds are still in the 20th Century world of the fax machine.

So as yet there's not a lot of information available, just the bare facts.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Info on road plans

Lack of information is a real problem in Dubai, which is particularly frustrating because it's so easily avoidable.

So it's good to see that in EmBiz247 today there's some information about the RTA's plans for our roads between now and 2020, including graphics of the planned system.

The RTA say that by 2020 they'll have spent Dh44 billion building 500km of additional roads with interchanges and bridges to the strategic plan developed with international consultants Parsons-USA.

One of the EmBiz247 graphics gives an idea of the main roads that we'll have by 2020:

By 2020 Dubai's population is predicted to increase from the present 1.5 million to over 5 million, the urban area will quadruple from what we have now and they say the number of vehicles is expected to increase from the present 700,000 to 5.3 million.

I find that last figure difficult to believe because it means a vehicle for every person. Currently we have roughly one for every two people and by 2020 a public transport system will be up and running. Still, over-estimating the traffic is a good thing - if the roads are built to carry twice as much traffic as there is we won't have congestion.

One of the bottlenecks, the Creek, will have new bridges raising the number of traffic lanes from the current 40 to 100 by 2020. I think, though, that the Creek won't be the bottleneck that it is now because the 5 million people will be spread out over a big area and most will not be travelling in or through the old city of Dubai.

We're also going to have a series of ring roads and bypasses - what good news that is and a critical part of any good road system. The principle is simple - if people don't want to go into a city give them a way to avoid it. The old city of Dubai will have inner and outer ring roads, but so will Dubailand, Business Bay and the new Jebel Ali airport.

With the increasing amount of accommodation coming onto the market in Dubai over the next few years, and with rents being controlled, we should also see a lot of the commuters from Sharjah and the northern emirates moving back to Dubai. The rents in the other emirates will, I believe, begin to close the gap on Dubai's rents anyway. The big morning and evening commute is one of the major causes of the traffic congestion, with literally hundreds of thousands of vehicles travelling in the same direction at the same time.

In any case, next year the new outer bypass joining the borders of Sharjah and Abu Dhabi is due to open, meaning that drivers not needing to come into Dubai won't have to.

There are going to be 95 new interchanges built in the next 12 years, we're told. Some are presumably small but there are some huge interchanges coming, something like the enormous Interchange 5 at Dubai Marina. Causing chaos at the moment as they're being built are the new interchange replacing Defence Roundabout and the Ittihad Road interchange where I have to go to take my car into Galadari Mazda.

We also have Interchange 6 well under way at the Jebel Ali end of Dubai Marina. Why that wasn't part of the original Marina plan I find astonishing. The original plan had something like 100,000 people living in the 4km-long development all trying to get in and out at one end.

Interchange 6

There are three things not mentioned in the article that cause huge problems and which I sincerely hope the RTA and Parsons-USA are also addressing.

One, the mish-mash of UK and US road systems used together. It doesn't work.

Two, signage. Misleading or non-existent signage and signs placed too close to lane changes or junctions so that motorists have to make sudden, late changes in direction.

Three, the many places at junctions and interchanges where there isn't enough distance to safely cross lanes to reach where you have to go.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Good news for home owners

One of many areas where the laws are playing catch-up with the frantic growth of Dubai is the real estate sector. The new property laws which are gradually coming into place are clarifying the situation and will remove some of the less acceptable practices.

The question of maintenance fees has been a major cause of friction between owners and developers for a long time, with outrageous fees being charged. Arrogant responses along the lines of 'if you don't like it you can sell your property' have been reported.

The registered owners of the properties have been the developers, who also took responsibility for maintenance - and fixed the charges. According to a report in Gulf News the charges have been between Dh8 and Dh12 a square foot. In fact much higher figures have been reported by disgruntled owners.

It's been a nice little earner for the developers. Just work it out - let's say at even only Dh10 a square foot, with 100 apartments of an average 1,500 sq.ft. in a block. That's one and a half million dirhams a year, a large part of which would be profit I'm sure.

Now with individual owners being registered with the Land Department and the new Condominium Law coming into play that will change.

Owners Associations backed by the law will take over responsibility for maintenance of the properties. The association will appoint a maintenance company, which obviously means there will be competition for the contracts, which should lead to sensible charges. The annual fee will be agreed by the owners themselves through their association.

It's taken a long time but at last we're getting to where we should be.

New zoo didn't happen

Back in July I posted the reports of the alleged new zoo in Dubailand, quoting an official as saying: "Construction of a huge new zoo will start in August...all the animals at the existing Dubai Zoo in Jumeirah will be moved by the end of this year to the new and much bigger zoo being built in DubaiLand...the core zoo will be built within three months after construction starts in August."

Inevitably, as so many times before, it didn't happen.

So it's good to see that Gulf News is still raising the issue of the current disgraceful zoo, with a full page today headed "No room to swing a cat."

It points out that more than 1,100 animals are packed into a total space of 20,000 square metres - much of which is offices, pathways, visitors centre and seating areas. And more animals are arriving each month.

An new update from an offical at Dubai Municipality is: The plan to relocate animals from the existing to zoo to a new bigger zoo at Dubailand is still on cards. "The civic body is building the zoo in cooperation with Dubailand on an area of 350 hectares."...But the civic authority is still waiting for the final word from the authorities concerned to go ahead with their construction plan.

When projects all over Dubai happen at astonishing speed, why is it that the new zoo hasn't happened?

The feature is here.

Later PS

On the subject of animals and zoos, I've just received a video from blogger Caz in Australia which is well worth watching. The background is said to be that a woman found a badly injured lion in the forest and nursed it back to health. She then arranged for it to go to a zoo and after some time she went to see how the lion was doing. I must say I'm sceptical about the story, but whether it's true or not the video is astonishing. You'll find it here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A lot of the problem is people

It's a bit chaotic out there.

Photo: Hadrian Hernandez.Gulf News

We've had rain for four consecutive days now, a record 110 mm in Dubai to Tuesday according to the Met office. The previous record for the whole of January was 81.9 mm. We've had more overnight and this morning too, so the record has been well and truly broken.

Not surprisingly many roads are flooded, some have had to be closed, various traffic lights aren't working. Car parks are under water too - probably about a third of the Knowledge Village car park has ankle deep water on it.

Inevitably a lot of the problems, particularly on the roads, are caused by people doing the wrong thing.

Drivers of high vehicles like buses and 4X4s going ridiculously fast through the floodwaters, throwing water all over the rest of the road, onto windshields, making it even more dangerous for the rest of us.

The inevitable hazzard light idiots driving along with indicators flashing on both sides of their car so the rest of us have no idea when or where they're going to turn.

Tailgaters are driving as normal, right up behind the vehicle in front. If they have to hit their brakes they're going to aquaplane into other vehicles.

The normal speeding, but now on abnormal roads.

Plenty of incidents are being reported, five killed across the country.

A 23 year old was killed in this crash when, in heavy rain, his car skidded into a concrete barrier on the side of the highway from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. The car bounced off the barrier into a parked vehicle but fortunately no-one else was injured. What speed was he doing to cause this amount of damage I wonder.

Photo: Gulf News

Another stupidity is that over 12,000 calls have been made to 999, the emergency number, most of which were motorists complaining about flooded roads. Many other motorists apparently complained that they couldn't get through to report their own non-emergencies!

Meanwhile, the few people who may have had a genuine emergency and were in urgent need of assistance probably couldn't get through either.


I don't understand the many complaints I'm hearing and reading that the drainage system isn't up to the job, 'how typical', 'shoddy workmanship', 'bad planning'.

We're in a country where rain is a rarity. Drainage systems have been or are being put in to cope with the predicted rain for such an arid country.

As Gulf News reports: "The storm water system is not designed for immediate clearance of rainwater because it does not rain here throughout the year," said an official at Dubai Municipality. He said it takes six hours for rain water to clear if it rains up to 18mm continuously.

In addition, I'm sure many of the drains are clogged by construction debris or sand. Throughout the dry months I've seen many, many road cleaners sweeping sand into the drains rather than shovelling it up.

And even in countries where rain is very frequent there are plenty of floods.

By co-incidence, today's English papers have stories of the floods in their wet country. Their Environment Agency issued 71 flood warnings last night, most in the West Country, Wales and the West Midlands. Not rain warnings but flood warnings.

And here's a photo from The Times of the town of Tewkesbury...

Given all the circumstances, Dubai does pretty well in my opinion.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Can I come out now?

If it wasn't for the fact that half the roads are flooded I assume the rest of the one and a half million of us can now go about our business in Dubai.

What was the chaos and disruption all about anyway?

All the reports I've seen today say that BushW's Dubai visit wasn't related to Israel-Palestine, Iran or peace in this volatile region, it was a sightseeing trip!

'A tour of Dubai's landmarks. Sheikh Saeed's house museum. Folk music & dance shows. Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural understanding. A visit to Burj Al Arab' are the reports.

Other headlines indicate the other side of the story: 'Motorists left in lurch by numerous diversions. Roadblocks and mass confusion cause hours of traffic misery. Presidential traffic throws traffic out of gear. Residents awake to find cars mysteriously moved'.

And something I was ranting on about yesterday, the cost of closing a commercial city.

Dubai International Financial Centre, where 500 companies operate, was closed. Dubai International Financial Exchange didn't operate. Jebel Ali Free Zone was closed, so the 5,000 companies there couldn't operate for the day.

Gulf News has attempted to put a figure on the losses. The say: "Dubai's economy may have suffered a loss of more than Dh432 million (over US$117 million) as a result of the shutdown caused by US President George W. Bush's visit, according to estimates based on the emirate's gross domestic product.

Dubai's GDP in 2006 reached Dh157 billion (nearly $43 billion). If trade comes to a standstill, then the emirate, the Gulf's largest trading hub and the major supply line, might have just lost Dh1 billion (US$272 million) in export, import and re-export business for the day."

Information vacuum

The really unforgivable part of the problem was the complete lack of information. About anything.

Road closures? No advance warning.

Diversions? No signs.

Public holiday? A few hours notice.

Even when information was given the reality contradicted it.

A report says: "Contrary to traffic plans, the complete closure of Shaikh Zayed Road, the lifeline of Dubai, from the Mall of the Emirates to Al Garhoud Bridge, left most of the city paralysed on Monday.

The road diversion plans announced by Dubai Roads and Transport Authority and the Police for the arrival of US President George W Bush yesterday were changed without any intimation leaving thousands of motorists wandering on the roads.

All exits and entries to and from Shaikh Zayed Road were blocked contrary to the earlier plan... this major unannounced change led to traffic chaos as people had to wait for several hours to get to the other side of Shaikh Zayed Road. "

Drivers were forced to U-turn and drive back on the wrong side of the road. The police were helpful but many didn't know what was going on any more than the rest of us. People abandoned their cars and walked. One driver reported taking seven hours to travel 27km from Sharjah to SZR. Another said he was turned back from everywhere he went.

And something else I talked about yesterday - the airport.

One would-be passenger said: "All the linking roads connecting Al Wasl and Jumeirah Road to other parts of the city were closed. I missed my flight to the UK."

And the report goes on: Thousands of passengers remained stranded due to lack of public transport and taxis. Passengers who landed at the airport could not reach their homes or hotels for several hours.

What an advertisement for Dubai for all the visiting business people and tourists!

We've had reports from Karama residents that they were virtually under house arrest, told to go back indoors if they ventured out onto the streets. And some awoke to find their cars missing. They'd been towed away 'for security reasons' without any warning.

All of it in a climate of absolutely no information whatsoever.

That is unforgivable.

If you can face reading the full horror stories, Gulf News has many. I won't put all the links here, but if you go here you can read the first one and then click on the others at 'Related Articles'.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Closing cities isn't acceptable.

I get really furious when politicians close down entire cities for other politicians.

It's even more unacceptable when the city in question is a major commercial centre. The losses to companies must run into many millions of dollars.

We had it in Sydney for the APEC Conference back in September and we have it in Dubai today for the Bush visit.

It shows utter contempt for the people and for business which is the life-blood of the city.

Of course security is an issue, but the disruption can easily be avoided and security easier to enforce if the meetings are held in places other than city centres.

In Australia it could, for example, have been on one of the resort islands. In Dubai it could have been at a desert resort, or at Zabeel Palace, or even at Burj Al Arab. The at-risk VIPs could travel by helicopter.

In Dubai the lack of information was even more unacceptable.

Yesterday roads were being closed off with no prior warning, no diversions, no signage. We all just went the way we normally do and spent hours in traffic jams without even knowing why.

Then just a few hours before the event a public holiday was announced. Because of the late decision I bet huge numbers of people weren't even aware of it and ran into massive problems this morning.

Again there was no prior warning of road closures. I drove on an empty Al Sufouh Road from Dubai Marina until just past Knowledge Village and found the road closed. No prior warning and not even a sign anywhere to tell us that the road ahead was closed.

Later I read in Gulf News a list of the roads and bridges that are closed today, but even they didn't know whether Shindagah Tunnel was going to be closed.

It's not only businesses of course, what about all the people trying to get to or from the airport. Roads to and around it are closed.

Do you remember the figures so proudly released recently? The airport has an average of 725 take-offs or landings every day and handles an average of over 90,000 passengers a day.

The visit was arranged a long time ago, the security needs were worked out long ago, road closures must have been worked out long ago. And nobody bothered to tell us.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Who writes this stuff?

This morning I had to pick my car up from the repairer - the usual Dubai problem of a couple of people running into it.

In the reception area there was a poster from our beloved RTA. I've just checked and the same message is on their website.

The message is so typical of companies and organisations these days and like buzzing (click on the label for my buzzing posts) it infuriates me. Meaningless cliches masquerading as some sort of policy or strategy with headings like 'Mission' and 'Values' - cliches in themselves.

Is there a Cliche Factory somewhere? Or do they all go to Google, type in 'meaningless cliche' and copy & paste them?

Here's what the RTA says:

Our Vision
Safe and Smooth Transport for all.

Our Mission
Our mission is to prepare legislation and develop integrated solutions of road systems and land/marine transportation networks that are safe and in line with Dubai’s economic development plans and the highest international standards.

Our Values
In our endeavor to achieve our strategic vision and mission at all levels, we refer of our mutual values that remain our first and prime reference at all times.

Corporate reputation
Our credibility and corporate reputation are honest reflections to the safe and reliable infrastructure we provide.

Distinction and Success
Our distinction is a true representation of performance based on efficiency, effectiveness and focus on continuous success.

Leadership and team work
The professionalism and wisdom of our leaders are manifested through their deep respect for individuals and reinforcement of teamwork.

Strategic partnerships
Our achievements and the success of our strategic partnerships are true reflection of our response to customer expectations and the contribution to the development of our society.

Quality and customer service
Acquisition and utilization of modern technology underpin our continuous journey towards quality and customer loyalty.

It's from the Cliche Factory isn't it.

The whole of the 'Values' section is a generic, copy & paste section that any organisation could use regardless of the business they're in. Many probably do.

But it's not just the pointless, meaningless cliches that annoy me. It's also the fact that the reality on the ground is so very different from the claims.

As a story in today's Gulf News shows, and on the roads as I found to my frustration this morning , there's actually a real world out there.

Ashfaq Ahmed has filed a report which is headed "A long and weary bus ride".

Let me remind you that the RTA is trying to get us out of our cars and onto public transport.

To be more than fair I'll leave out the problems caused by traffic congestion. Stuff like a scheduled 55 minute journey taking 2 hours 15 minutes, or 3 hours and 50 minutes for a journey that Ashfaq says normally takes not more than one hour in a car during morning peak hours.

No, let's forget all that.

But what about these little aspects of travelling by bus as reported by Ashfaq.

"Travelling in public buses in Dubai is an excellent option only if you want to save money and if you are a tourist with plenty of time to waste. It is certainly not a good option for those who have to reach their offices on time everyday because buses never reach on scheduled time...Forget about taking bus every three minutes as is claimed by the Public Transport Agency of the Roads and Transport Authority.

I tried different bus routes at different times of the day...It was a nightmare when it comes to catching bus.

The bus stop was crowded and I had to wait for at least 30 minutes for the bus. But what is this? People have started pushing each other to get into the bus. The driver took a good seven minutes to accommodate around 15 people and then shut the door leaving at least 10 more passengers mostly females behind because there were no seats available.

Ashfaq then changed buses at Al Ghubaiba bus terminal.

"It was not a pleasant scene at Al Ghubaiba as well because it took me a good 20 minutes to find out which bus I should take to reach Gulf News office.

He had a rest at his office, then plunged back into our state-of-the-art, world's-best-practice bus system.

"I waited for a bus near Gulf News for about 30 minutes, it never came.

He walked to Safa Park and found a bus to Satwa bus station.

"I decided to take a bus route map. I started asking different people about the information kiosk. There was none. One driver told me to go to an office with tinted glass. I walked in and found an employee talking over the phone. He was not bothered at all. I looked around and saw some route maps in the corner of the room. I picked up one but you have to be a Columbus to decipher the route map. It was available only in English while most of the people I found using the bus were workers who usually cannot read English.

Did I mention that Al Ghubaiba and Satwa bus stations were filthy enough to make you hold your breath?

How does that relate to the 'Values' claimed by the RTA?

Management of the bus system sounds as efficient as management of our roads, with its lack of information, misleading signs, insufficient warning distances, mishmash of US and UK road systems.

This morning I left Media City at 9.15 to drive to Al Ittihad Road near the airport. That would be maybe 40 km I guess. I picked up my car and drove back to Media City. Total time 4 hours. Half a day.

Every road I drove on or could see was either at a complete standstill or traffic was crawling slowly.

There were apparently road closures around Sheikh Zayed Road, to do with BushW's visit people were saying. Were we informed in advance? Not a word. Had we been we could have used alternative routes.

To add to the problems, people had been sent SMS spam by the RTA telling them that the new Al Garhoud Bridge was open - it wasn't, so that caused extra confusion and mayhem.

Communication isn't rocket science is it. If roads are going to be closed, tell us. Don't tell us the bridge is open if it isn't. Put clear signs up so that we know where we need to steer the car.

And management isn't difficult either, as long as the managers are competent.

If you'd like to read Ashfaq's article it's here. And the bridge misinformation fiasco is here.


What a perfect example of bad planning, bad management, lack of communication.

This afternoon it was announced that tomorrow will be a public holiday for ministries, government establishments, schools and private sector companies in Dubai. In other words, just about all of us.

The afternoon before is just a tad late to make such an announcement wouldn't you say?

Why has the public holiday been declared?

The statement says it's "due to the closure of some main roads, bridges and tunnels" which is in relation to President W's visit.

Why was the announcement made so late?

My bet is that the traffic chaos throughout Dubai today, when they'd only just started to close off roads, caught them by surprise, even though Blind Freddy could have predicted it. Realising what major closures would do, a public holiday was the answer.

Now look, when the US President travels there's an advance guard of security experts who set up security in places he will be visiting. They do it a long time before he travels.

So the measures being taken now were worked out a long time ago.

And nobody thought it through to predict the traffic chaos that would result? Nobody was aware of the effect of closing main roads and bridges in a city that's a traffic nightmare normally? Nobody realised before this afternoon that a public holiday should be declared?

Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ugly water buses are empty

I took a photograph of the Creek water buses the other day and was going to post about the ugliness of them.

Today there's a report that they're shuttling between Bur Dubai and Deira just about empty. The reason, people said, was the cost - the abra fare is Dh1 while the water bus is Dh4.

Commuting across the Creek each day, as many people do, will cost Dh10 a week the traditional way and Dh40 a week by water bus. That's a huge difference and simply not worth it for a few minutes of air-conditioning.

Maybe in the worst of the summer months their business will increase but I can't see them being a success for most of the year. And that leads me to a horrible thought - as they cost Dh700,000 each you don't think our beloved RTA might consider getting rid of the abra fleet to ensure their success do you?

But on to what I actually was going to say. The design.

What we were shown before they went into service was what I said at the time was a good, appropriate design. They had a sleek but retro look about them, fitting in with the look of the dhows and the abras that fill the Creek.

The real thing is a squat, compressed, ugly shape that looks horribly out of place on the Creek.

Too short, too compressed, too high. They look as though they were cobbled together by an amateur in his backyard.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Changing times

It's reported that Dubai International Airport was the world's fastest growing in 2007. More than 34 million passengers were handled and on average there were 725 arrivals & departures each day.

It's all very different from my first arrival in Dubai back in 1977. Then the main entrance looked like this...


Late addition.
Folks, if you read the comments to this posting you'll see that Anonymous enhanced the photo. As s/he took the trouble to do that I thought I should say 'thanks' by posting the improved photo...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cause & effect

Two reports today highlight the tragedy of our appalling road problems.

Dubai Police say that traffic offences are up by 43%. So in spite of the publicity, the endless talk that so many of us engage in, the campaigns by police and the RTA, not only are drivers not listening, the situation is getting worse.

More than two million traffic offences were reported last year - in a population of about 1.3 million and something like 750,000 vehicles.

The largest category will come as no surprise - speeding. Radar on Dubai's roads recorded over 1.3 million speeding offences. As we all know, radar catches a fraction of the total - who hasn't regularly seen speeding drivers slow down as they approach a radar camera? Or speeding on roads not fitted with radar? In reality the number of motorists guilty of speeding is much higher than the official figure.

Then we have the tragedy of a crash in Sharjah yesterday in which five workers were killed and seven injured.

The head of Sharjah Police's Patrol section said the cause was a heavy truck driving in the wrong direction at speed. To make it even worse, the load of iron bars the truck was carrying wasn't secured properly.

Speeding in the wrong direction with a dangerous load.

A minibus carrying twelve workers and the truck collided, the iron bars obviously dislodged. Three of the passengers died at the scene, two others died in hospital. The extent of the injuries to the others isn't given.

We all know the results of dangerous driving. Don't we? So why do so many people still do it?

The reports are here and here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Food for thought

A couple of conversations recently.

One was with my Filipino barber - or 'hairdresser' as they prefer to be called these days. It was the end of the year and I asked whether his family was here and what he would be doing to celebrate.

He told me his family was back in the Philippines and he sees them once every two years. There would be parties with friends in the accommodation. Three hundred people live in the villa he said. When I looked surprised he said it was "a very big villa, we're only eight or ten in each room. Each room will do a party & we'll visit each other."

Sees his family once every two years, shares a room with nine others.

"Why don't you go back to the Philippines?" I asked.

"Here is better." he said.

The other conversation was with one of the full-time cleaners in our apartment block. He told me he was going to see his family in India, the first time in three years.

He lives in a cuboard.

It's actually called the 'Utility Room', where they keep the brooms and other cleaning materials. He has a thin mattress on the tile floor in there.

Same question from me: "Why don't you go back to India?

Same answer: "Dubai is better.

Neither earns what I consider acceptable money, neither see their family as often as I think is acceptable, neither has what I consider acceptable accommodation.

What do I know.

Monday, January 07, 2008

We have weather!

That's a photo taken a couple of days ago, today we have just about everything.

People who don't live here are always surprised when I mention any weather other than hot and sunny. "But you live in the desert" is the usual response.

Today we have a winter shamal, the wind that blasts in from the north-west bringing colder temperatures and plenty of dust. Visibility isn't good this morning and it's going to get worse because the forecast is for gale force winds this afternoon.

We also have some rain over Dubai, earlier it was in Satwa and by about 10am it was around Dubai Marina. Not heavy, but enough for me to have to use the car windscreen wipers.

Up in Ras Al Khaimah they've had heavy rain and hail while the East coast has had light rain.

A motorist is reported killed in RAK when he lost control of his car in the hail storm

The Met. Centre says we're going to have the unsettled weather for a few days, with lower temperatures.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Motoring and stuff

According to a report in Khaleej Times today, the Ministry of Interior has announced that much tougher penalties for various traffic violations will apply from March 1.

Both fleeing the scene of an accident in which someone was injured and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs will mean a prison term and a fine of not less than Dh20,000.

Jail, a fine or both will be the result for people driving when they've been banned, driving without a licence or driving a vehicle they're not licenced to drive. Jail for at least three months, a fine of at least Dh5,000 or both are the punishment.

There are also stiffer sentences for people guilty of various number plate offences, such as making/using fake number plates, changing or distorting number plates.

I've said many times before that I'm all for education and awareness programmes to change driver attitudes. But for an immediate impact I'm in favour of tougher punishment right now, fines, jail, vehicle confiscation in particular, to force the morons to do the right thing. Let's hope there's better enforcement than has been the case in the past.

You can read the full story and interview with Colonel Ghaith Al Za’abi, Director of the Traffic Department, here.

There were a couple of other traffic-related stories that caught my eye during the last few days too.

Dubai Police patrols will all be issued with a measuring device able to check the level of tinting on vehicle windows, the limit being 30% of course. The device has been undergoing tests and traffic police have completed a training course in its use. The tests apparently confirmed the accuracy of the device, which is placed on the vehicle window, a button is pushed and, hey presto, an accurate reading of the level of tinting is displayed.

That's a positive move - driving is bad enough without the added hazzard of drivers not being able to see where they're going.

Salik fiasco

The other story was this bizarre Salik fines being waived yes-they-are-no-they're-not fiasco.

What a great example of the factor underlying most of our problems here in Dubai - make a decision and act on it before it's been thought through. (That will be the subject of another posting because it's the most frustrating thing of all about Dubai).

Our beloved RTA announced that as a gesture of goodwill - no, seriously, that's what they said - they were waiving all fines for the first four months of the system.

The Director of Intelligent Traffic Systems (isn't that an oxymoron?) at the RTA said: "There is no problem with the system (no, stop laughing) but we are lenient on issuing fines because some motorists did not provide correct data".

Now Look! I've told you before, will you please stop causing the RTA problems!

All of us who'd spent hours or days trying to find an outlet to buy our Salik tags, spent Dh50 to set up our account, topped up our account when told to do so, were steaming with fury. Why did we bother!

The papers were full of the anger.

Then the RTA realised they hadn't actually thought it through, gave it some quick thought for an hour or two and next day announced a change of policy.

Now they said that fines would be waived for motorists registered with Salik, while motorists who'd used the toll-road without tags would still be fined. Registered motorists who'd paid fines already could claim their money back.

Oh, and the waiver is only for individual car owners and not for companies.

And motor-cycle users, registered or not, will have their fines waived until December 31 (2007 presumably).

I'm more convinced than ever that the Monty Python team are involved in writing statements & policy for the RTA.

It's a bureaucratic nightmare in the making so I'm sure we haven't heard the last of this stuff-up.

I know you think I'm making this up but I swear it's true. You can read the full original reports in Gulf News here and here.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

You gotta smile.

I really don't like shopping.

It gets worse when sales assistants invade my personal space hovering two millimetres from me, when other shoppers insist on pushing in front of me to look at whatever it is I'm trying to look at, when the shop doesn't bother to display things in an orderly way so that I'm expected to spend hours trying to find what I want. I get very irritable.

But, in Dubai there are plenty of things that make it a little less annoying and even raise a smile or two.

Example, I'm in Spinneys pork department and in the big display of meat there are three trays of obviously different types of sausages. I point at the middle tray and ask the 'butcher' "What type are those?"

His face registers 'you're stupid' as he tells me "Sausages, Sir."

Silly me.

Someone comes from the back room to tell me they're Cumberland.

And simply walking around, you come across things that raise a smile. This is quite a common phrase on signs...

Then, you wonder what on earth they sell at Mega Mall...

Something different to hang the clothes on...

And wandering through Deira yesterday, I noticed this one. Not good for business confidence I would have thought...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Things happen fast in Dubai

Thanks to EmBiz247 for bringing us this latest example of just how fast major projects can be completed here:

Just three weeks of digging.