The Middle East has seen a quantum leap in transportation in the last decade and, inevitably, technology is really pushing this advance.
The region is still in a development phase, which puts us in the fantastic position of not being encumbered with legacy infrastructure and systems. There’s also much less bureaucracy around project definition and development – so new projects and programmes can go straight from Royal Decree to delivery.
Of course, that’s not always a positive thing and there’s a lot to be said for the careful planning and legal processes of advanced economies. However, technology moves at a startling pace and the Middle East is better placed than most parts of the world to be an early adopter of new systems.
Transport authorities in the UAE and Qatar, in particular, are making technology and smart systems a key component of their investment plans. They have the funding and platforms to be able to buy off the shelf solutions which present limited risk and flexibility for development.
The evidence of behavioural change and adaptation to transport innovations is very positive. Those who doubted the potential of Dubai Metro (the longest automated mass transit system in the world) to attract users will be eating humble pie for a many years. Its success has led to similar technologically advanced networks being proposed and planned across the region, and the impact on cities like Doha and Riyadh will be huge.
The Gulf states have among the highest levels of mobile phone penetration in the world and apps like Uber have enjoyed tremendous success. Transport authorities are also capitalising on this with their smart systems, making it easier to order taxis, catch a bus or work out your best route from A to B.
There’s also a big push in the region to encourage active, healthy lifestyles and technology is making the roads safer for vulnerable users such as cyclists, although there’s a long way to catch up with cities like London or Paris, not to mention Copenhagen. We’re working closely with government clients in the region at the moment to understand the full implications of taking on new systems, such as the physical changes needed for the roads infrastructure.
The creation of cycle friendly environments could typically entail layout changes to traffic light junctions, where sensors will detect cyclists and allow them a head start before cars get the green light. Intelligent sensors can also detect when pedestrians are still crossing a road to ensure traffic lights don’t change too early.
So it’s an exciting time for all modes of transportation in the Middle East. There are challenges – there’s little incentive for private sector investment, while cheap fuel means people will continue to be married to their 4x4s. However, the region is a melting pot, with 200 nationalities and a spirit for getting things done, so I’m expecting to see it keep forging ahead and improving how we get around.
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