The newly-arrived expat’s first experience of transport in Dubai is likely to be a car ride. It may be an airport pick-up by a colleague or friend, or a taxi ride from Dubai International Airport to your hotel or other accommodation, depending on your circumstances. In either case, relax and enjoy; look around and take it all in.
The ride from the airport to your destination will be one of the more expensive rides you will take in Dubai, as all rides from Dubai airport attract a flag-fall charge of AED 20-25, if you opt for one of the bigger, mini-van sized vehicles. To put this into a dollars and cents (or pounds and pence) perspective: a ride from the airport to the neighboring Emirate of Sharjah, a distance of about 25kms, and depending on traffic conditions, 30-35 minutes, costs about AED 90, or $US25.00 / £16.00. So taxis are cheap, clean, new and usually very reliable. A ride from anywhere other than the airport attracts just a AED 10 flagfall, the taxis are metered, so you pay just what the meter says you pay. You will not get ripped off, and if you suspect you have been, you have recourse to the Dubai Regional Transport Authority if you wish to complain. Females traveling alone who might feel uncomfortable with a male taxi driver even have the option of a Ladies’ Taxi – driven by a female driver and recognizable by their pink-painted roofs.
Dubai is rightly proud of its mostly above ground Metro commuter light rail system. Inaugurated in September 2009, it is quite an astounding work in progress. Everything said about Dubai taxis applies to the Metro and more: cheap, safe, clean, ultra reliable and extremely user friendly. Read about how to use the Metro via the RTA portal.
This tells you where you can go, how much it will cost, how to buy e-cards to access the system quickly and efficiently and much, much more.
I am a little ashamed to have to admit to not having ever used the public bus system in Dubai. That being said, the changes over the last 15 years have been positively stellar. Dubai has a fleet of thoroughly modern, clean, safe and air-conditioned buses; this is essential, because in summer, the temperature around midday can soar close to 50° Celsius! Dubai has been working hard to make using the public buses an attractive and practical alternative to using cars that can clog the roads all so easily. To this end, bus shelters are also air-conditioned and more cross-motorway aerial pedestrian crossings are appearing. As well as these improvements, Dubai’s Regional Transport Authority (RTA) is constantly working to co-ordinate bus routes with Metro stations to provide a seamless and efficient public transport network.
Again, the RTA website is the place to go for all the necessary information on Dubai’s bus system.
If you intend to use the Metro and the buses, one of the easiest and most convenient ways to pay for the services is by purchasing NOL cards. These are a single e-card, about the size of a standard credit card, which can be preloaded with any sum between AED 14-500 and then used to pay for your trips quickly and efficiently. You can buy the right NOL card for your purpose – there are 4 different kinds – at the ticket office of any Metro Station. Typically, a Silver NOL card costs 20 dirhams and it includes 14 dirhams worth of travel immediately available. That is sufficient for between 4 and 7 standard trips, depending on how far along the line you wish to travel. When your card will no longer pay for further trips, just take it to the ticket office and add any sum between AED 10-500 for further travel. You can read more about the different types of NOL cards and what they can be used for here.
Dubai is bisected by a body of water called Dubai Creek. This is an inlet from the sea that reaches several kilometers inland and at its widest, is 3-400 meters across. It is also deep enough to be navigable to the traditional Arabian Gulf and Indian ocean wooden sailing dhows. In the cooler months, the Creek-side, particularly on Dubai’s Deira side, is a pleasant and colorful walking experience: a way of contrasting the old Dubai with the newer, more glitzy developments of the last 12 years, which are largely concentrated on the other side of the Creek, flanking the main Sheikh Zayed highway, between the Dubai International Finance Centre and Jebel Ali Port. One of the great transport bargains is right at your feet – a Creek crossing by a water taxi or abra, which costs very little as it is used most often by the lower paid workers. However, it is worth a trip if you are into new experiences and like most other activities in Dubai, is very safe.
There are, however, just three abra stations, one on the Deira side of the Creek and two others on the opposite Bur Dubai side. The one that most new Dubai residents are likely to encounter first is the Deira station, located just alongside the Deira Old Souk, itself a colorful attraction for short-term visitors and long-term residents alike. The two stations on the Bur-Dubai side are about two kilometers apart, and both ferry customers to the Deira station.
There are other water transport services, mostly dedicated to scenic cruises up and down the Creek, and these are a very good way to become acquainted with the skyline and varied architectural shapes that comprise new and old Dubai.
Travel on foot
Dubai is clean and safe: very safe, so don’t let fears of being set upon, mugged and robbed deter you from exploring Dubai by that most ancient and basic form of transport, the feet you are born with. There are, of course, a couple of caveats. Just make sure you choose a time of day or year when the temperature is conducive to walking.
Walking is pleasant and refreshing during the two winter months of December and January. It’s also perfectly feasible one to two months either side of these two, but your individual tolerances for heat and humidity will determine just how many months of the year you can walk comfortably outside. Probably, nobody walks for pleasure or for long periods in the high summer months of July, August and most of September, when daytime temperatures are in the mid-40s Celsius, and night-time mid-30s, with high humidity.
To make walking as pleasant, safe (from traffic, not thugs) and practical as possible, Dubai has generously-sized footpaths (or sidewalks) and an increasing number of pedestrian over-bridges, to allow safe crossing of multi-lane inner city highways. There are also plenty of traffic-light controlled pedestrian crossings, especially in areas near shopping malls and other places of high pedestrian traffic. Despite all of the above conveniences, as a walker, it pays to keep your wits about you, especially crossing streets, even if the green light is on your side.
Here are some useful links on walking / self-guided explorations of interesting part of Dubai. (The first also mentions cycling: for those considering it, you’re a braver man or woman than I!)
For the first-time visitor:
Finally, when you’ve had enough walking, you’re never far from a bus stop (air-conditioned, and non-smoking) or a Metro station, so just whip out your NOL card and head back to your accommodation in comfort.