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World Print 2022-04-15

Dubai plans to introduce self-driving and flying taxis by 2030: official

Published April 15, 2022
5 things you didn’t know about Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority

KARACHI: Dubai is known for embracing tech in all aspects of its urban development, and transport is no different. When tourists head to the city 8 years from now, there is a good chance the cab they hail could either be an autonomous vehicle or a flying taxi – a self-driving contraption that resembles a helicopter.

“Dubai’s transportation plans are prepared to cater for the future growth in both population and tourists,” said Nasser bu Shehab, CEO of Strategy and Corporate Governance Sector at Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), which was founded in 2005 and has so far invested over Dhs97 billion in transportation infrastructure and public transportation assets.

Speaking exclusively to Business Recorder, Shehab said plans include introducing new modes of transport such as autonomous and flying taxis in partnership with top international companies. The RTA’s goal is “to achieve 25% of trips by driverless modes in 2030.”

The authority has previously said it will start its autonomous vehicle service in 2023 and intends to have 4,000 driverless vehicles by 2030. But these lofty ambitions aren’t achieved overnight.


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In 2017, RTA partnered with German company Volocopter to test out its urban air taxis. Last year, it signed an agreement with General Motors-backed Cruise, a US-based autonomous vehicle company that will see Cruise operate self-driving taxis in the emirate, making Dubai the first non-US city in the world where the company will commercially operate these vehicles.

Before all this can become a reality though, getting regulation right is key.

“Having an innovative regulatory framework can enable new modes of transport such as autonomous vehicles and aerial taxis,” said Shehab. RTA is spearheading the autonomous vehicle legislation in the region, and is working with relevant stakeholders at the local and federal levels to pave way for new legislations.

To this end, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, issued a resolution that regulates autonomous vehicle testing in Dubai.

“The resolution which is the first of its type in the region, is part of the first phase of a legislative framework being created to ensure the highest efficiency, reliability and security of smart mobility,” said Shehab.

RTA is also working with regulators in the aviation sector to develop regulatory framework for aerial taxis. In 2020, the General Civil Aviation Authority published a regulation with collaboration from RTA for Urban Air Mobility.

Between 2016 and 2020, nearly 2.85 Million tCO2e emissions were avoided due to shifting people from private to public transport: Nasser bu Shehab, CEO of Strategy and Corporate Governance Sector at Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA)

“This is an important milestone in the creation of the UAE framework for a safe, secure and efficient operation of flights in the close proximity of populated urban areas,” said Shehab.

Making the most of tech

RTA isn’t using tech just for its self-driving goals. “When it comes to traffic management and operation, RTA applies advanced tools and systems to monitor, optimize and streamline traffic movement” said Shehab. These systems enable RTA to identify and manage congestion.

The state-of-the-art RTA Traffic Management Center (TMC) optimises and controls traffic signals, post alerts on electronic message signs, partners with media to alert drivers about traffic accidents and incidents, gathers traffic flow data and monitors roads through CCTV cameras.

Big events such as New Year’s Eve and the recently-concluded Expo 2020, which generate large influx of tourists, are managed through the TMC, along with the RTA enterprise control and command centre.

RTA also believes data and digital technology is one of the key drivers to improve efficiency and sustainability of infrastructure.

“Although we launched RTA’s digital strategy in 2017, we started our digital journey much earlier where for example we introduced driverless metro in 2009 and we were one of the first government entities to digitise our services,” said Shehab.

“We are continuing our digital transformation journey with a very ambitious roadmap of more than 100 projects. So far 73 projects have been completed,” he added.

These include Raqeeb, which monitors bus drivers for indicators of fatigue or illness; a journey planning app called S’hail App; and a bilingual (Arabic/English) chatbot called Mahboub that gives users information such as how to renew a driver’s licence or register a vehicle.

“In the future we will focus on the utilisation of fourth industrial revolution technologies such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and big data to improve the experience of infrastructure and to provide a more personalized and customized services” said Shehab.

A focus on sustainability

Sustainability is one of the RTA’s major focus areas. Some of the key projects planned to support sustainability include the development of an integrated network of dedicated bus lanes to encourage the use of public transport.

It also has a Green Mobility Strategy to promote clean fuel and achieve zero emissions from public transport modes by 2050 and zero waste sent to landfill from RTA operations by 2030.

There are also plans to trial hydrogen-run taxis and convert 90% of the city’s limousine taxis to electric & hybrid by 2026.

“Between 2016 and 2020, nearly 2.85 Million tCO2e emissions were avoided due to shifting people from private to public transport,” said Shehab.

Catering to a booming population

The recently-approved Dubai Urban Plan-2040 has forecast the Dubai 2030 and 2040 daytime population (this usually includes local residents and those who commute to the city from outside) at 6.1 and 7.8 million, respectively, compared to the current number of around 4.4 million.

Meanwhile the average daily numbers of tourists are expected to be around 320,000 in 2030 and 560,000 by 2040.

“These major increases in population and tourist numbers require careful transportation planning to identify projects and services needed to cater for their mobility needs,” said Shehab.

All of RTA’s plans are implemented on a “stage-wise and scalable bases” and its priorities are continuously monitored and updated based on changes in economic and population growth. For example, a certain road corridor can have a limited number of lanes and later expanded if the economic and population growth warrant that.

Shehab said RTA’s plans “include expanding the car sharing, shared e-scooter and bikes and bus-on-demand services among other mobility services to provide a wide array of options for different categories of residents and tourists.”

“Transportation system is one of the key drivers of economy. It is not possible to imagine a vibrant economy and high level of life quality without an advanced multimodal transportation system,” he added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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