$220bln to build extra 1,100 km of metro rail


GCC cities should spend $220bln to build extra 1,100 km of metro rail

Global consultancy firm Strategy& says socio-economic benefits worth $700 billion can be realised by building extra metro tracks by 2030.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Getty Images , Getty Images
Image used for illustrative purpose. Getty Images
Getty Images

GCC cities will need an additional 1,100 km of metro systems by 2030, estimated to cost nearly $220 billion, global consultancy firm Strategy& said in a new report.

The cities currently have 400 km and will need the expansion of metro tracks to meet the growing population demand.

As of 2022, Dubai and Doha have 90 km and 76 km of operational metro system tracks, respectively.

Riyadh is planning to launch a 176 km metro system by 2024. Saudi Arabia will need an extra capital investment of $34 billion by 2030 in addition to the $40 billion already spent.

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi began electric bus trials in 2019 and has outlined plans for a 131 km metro system by 2030.

Although the cost is significant, a properly implemented and funded metro system can generate three to four times in direct and indirect socioeconomic benefits.

“If cities were to build the additional roughly 1,100 km of metro rail required by 2030, they could realise direct and indirect socio-economic benefits worth around $700 billion over a 20-year period,” said Mark Haddad, Partner with Strategy& Middle East.

Ensuring that current and future metro systems achieve such returns requires a framework based on four pillars that rest upon four foundational elements. These will help cities realise the anticipated returns and implement a metro system in a cost-efficient and effective manner.

The four pillars are clear objectives, integrated planning, high-quality service & customer-centric experience and commercial mindset.

These four pillars of the implementation framework rest on four elements: effective governance; policies and incentives to support transit adoption; funding throughout system development, launch and early operations and local capabilities that enable effective long-term management.

Ruggero Moretto, Principal with Strategy& Middle East, stated that properly implemented and managed metro systems could create long-term socioeconomic returns, promote sustainability, and improve the quality of life for residents.

(Editing by Seban Scaria seban.scaria@lseg.com)


Bahrain deploys e-paper displays to increase sustainability


Can urban transport reform put brakes on Gulf’s car centric culture?

Modern Gulf cities built around car dependency face a net-zero pledges test. Plans to retrofit cities and weave in sustainable mobility are in the pipeline, but the car is still king.

Dubai traffic A picture taken on June 1, 2009 shows the traffic on a highway in Dubai, the most populous city of the United Arab Emirates. – OLIVER LANG/AFP via Getty Images


The Gulf Arab states’ first oil exports in the mid-20th century triggered migration to cities. Neighborhoods built around individual car-based mobility were built, primarily inspired by the United States’ 1950s suburban dream.


“Cities in the Gulf were designed on low-density planning, and that does not make public transportation financially feasible because ridership is very low, just like in many American cities,” noted Karim Elgendy, an urban sustainability consultant and founder of Carboun, an initiative promoting sustainability in cities of the Middle East and North Africa.He said population density in major Gulf urban centers is “very low.” In Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, the rate is three times lower than what UN-Habitat recommended for sustainable neighborhood planning — at least 15,000 people per square kilometer. Worse, density is declining. Mecca’s halved between 1983 and 2010.

Oil discoveries “undermined, with unparalleled suddenness, the roots of an ecosystem which reflected a perfect adaptation to an environment many generations old,” Mohamed Riad, then professor of geography at Qatar University, wrote in a 1981 research paper on petro-urbanism.

‘Great interest in improving’

Decades later, the car culture’s pitfalls, including impacts on public health, are coming back to haunt Gulf states, now some of the world’s most urbanized countries. Kuwait has the world’s highest rates of childhood asthma linked to traffic pollution, followed by the UAE.

The climate crisis tops the international agenda and nudges policymakers to explore alternatives. Elgendy told Al-Monitor he was consulted by the government of Dubai a few weeks ago. “There was great interest in improving and redefining mobility,” he said, before the UAE, of which Dubai is one of the seven sheikhdoms, hosts the COP28 climate conference in 2023.

The Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan emphasizes quality of life to help attract talent as a hub for the global economy. UAE’s government portal says the plan aims to “encourage mass transit use, walking, cycling and flexible means of transportation.”

“The approach evolved with the realization that the question of climate change could no longer be avoided,” said Camille Ammoun, a policy advisor in sustainable urban development to Dubai from 2007 to 2018.

Dubai successfully weaved into the city the Gulf’s first metro network in 2009 (Doha followed suit in 2019), primarily along the main artery of the city, the Sheikh Zayed Road. Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority estimated that the metro eliminated about one billion car journeys from 2009 to 2020. Throughout 2021, Dubai Metro carried 151 million riders.

Besides expanding metro networks, analysts interviewed for this report called for higher population density around transportation nodes. In Doha, the regeneration of the downtown Musheireb district has translated into higher density around Doha Metro’s central station hub.

There are disparities, though. “I do not think there is much interest in public transportation at the moment in Kuwait, and there is very little action on the ground. Oman likewise,” Elgendy said.

Kuwait’s last major transportation plan was in 1978. “I remember an elder from a very affluent background telling me that he used to go to the market with his grandmother by bus,” said Jassim Al-Awadhi, founder of Kuwait Commute, an initiative established in 2018 to raise awareness about public transport. But since 1980, bus ridership in the emirate dropped by 86% to only 2.2% of the total population boarding a bus daily.

As ridership plunged, bus operators focused on fewer routes, mainly to high-density areas where low-income workers live, strengthening a perception among Kuwaiti citizens who account for only about 30% of the population that bus networks only cater to blue-collar workers.

In the meantime, the number of cars in Kuwait jumped by 65% between 2006 and 2016. “Automobiles have taken control of our lives,” Al-Awadhi told Al-Monitor. The long-discussed Kuwait Metro, still in draft form, is “like a dark joke because nothing happens on the ground.”

Publicity stunt or genuine move

Also, the Gulf’s hot and humid climate — temperatures climb above 50°C (122°F) during summer — discourages walking or cycling for half of the year, including for first-mile-last-mile distances. Cities like Montreal and Hong Kong prove that extreme climates are not a deterrent to public transportation, but it requires protective infrastructure to provide comfortable conditions.

Urban planning analysts believe the solution in the Gulf lies in air-conditioned multimodal transportation nodes where passengers can switch from a metro train to bus, tram or even micro-mobility.

“Over the last couple of years, e-scooters have emerged as a popular mobility solution to tackle the first-mile-last-mile issue, especially in Dubai,” said Syed Munawer, a senior urban planning specialist at Qatar National Master Plan.

He told Al-Monitor that setting up dedicated walkways and lanes for scooters would increase public transportation adoption and offer a cost-effective door-to-door alternative to individual cars.

Autonomous electric vehicles are also viewed as a solution to tackle first-mile-last-mile issues — Dubai plans to roll out the Gulf’s first driverless taxis in 2023 — but air transport is met with skepticism. “There is always a fascination with new things, such as air mobility, but I do not see their advantage from a sustainability point of view. Air transportation is very demanding in terms of energy use,” Elgendy said.

Building new cities and transportation modes from scratch could be a solution, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman believes. The Line, a linear futuristic town planned along a 170-km strip of land, is billed as a series of neighborhoods without any roads, streets or cars, connected by an ultra-high speed transit network.

“In my opinion, the main question is do we invest in urban mobility as a publicity stunt, or to genuinely reinvent the way we move around Gulf modern cities,” a source within Gulf urban planning circles told Al-Monitor. “There is a staggering mismatch between ambitions and actual policy frameworks.”

‘Incredibly hard to retrofit cities’

Another problem is that the interests of several influential family-owned business conglomerates, such as car importers and construction companies, remain closely tied up with car-based mobility.

Putting the genie of car culture​​ back into the bottle also implies rethinking the consumer culture. “Cars are attractive articles of consumption; that is something people aspire to,” Elgendy said. Ammoun noted, “The individual car is still king … Dubai was built for cars even more than some American cities, such as Los Angeles,”

Analysts think mobility in the region will likely primarily revolve around electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, which uses already existing car-based infrastructures.

Elgendy concluded: “It is incredibly hard to retrofit cities. It requires huge investments.”

Removing cars from the equation has never been considered, Munawer said. EV manufacturing plants are in the pipeline in Saudi Arabia to make 300,000 cars a year by 2030, half of those built by Public Investment Fund-majority owned EV startup Lucid.

So far, the electrification push does not extend to fleets of gasoline-powered buses that shuttle armies of migrant workers from their labor camps on the outskirts into Gulf cities every day. The segregated clusters also shed light on the Gulf’s long-favored planning strategy of housing in one area, shops in another, etc.

“I shiver when I see some of the planning regulations still in practice here that exclude retail or mixed use in residential areas,” the urban planning source said. “To develop sustainable mobility we should provide mixed use communities that offer live-work-play options.”The source added: “We have to change the way we plan Gulf cities.”

Read more: https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2022/05/can-urban-transport-reform-put-brakes-gulfs-car-centric-culture#ixzz7UTtOzWYg

The above-featured image is of Gulf Times.



Urban Growth underpinned by Livability and Sustainable Growth


The World Bank in an introduction to its recently published paper on the world urban development as it presently stands and where it could potentially be going. It covers 10,000 cities by showing how the shape of urban growth is underpinned by livability and sustainable growth. Here are some excerpts that best resume the report titled Pancakes to Pyramids : City Form to Promote Sustainable Growth.

Here is:

Urban Growth underpinned by Livability and Sustainable Growth

What drives the shape of cities, and what actions can policymakers take to guide their growth? The authors of Pancakes to Pyramids set out to find out. I am pleased to say that they have succeeded in increasing our understanding of the economic variables that drive urban expansion while challenging conventional wisdom about sprawl. Most importantly, they have opened up a field of inquiry that will be central to the World Bank’s mission of poverty reduction and sustainable and inclusive development in the years ahead as leaders strive to create green, resilient, and inclusive cities that attract people and businesses. As low- and middle-income countries urbanize in the decades ahead, this report provides new evidence for city leaders interested in managing spatial growth. It also provides a theoretical model to test assumptions about compactness and public transport that will be crucial to rein in commuting time, fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions.

What city leaders need to know Pyramids are generally better than pancakes at meeting three key urban planning objectives: driving prosperity, ensuring livability, and respecting planetary boundaries.

Compared with a pancake city, a pyramid city will drive more growth in urban productivity and incomes because it is more economically dense and efficient—its inward and vertical expansion reduce the distances between firms, jobs, and workers.

A pyramid is also better at achieving livable urban population densities, accompanied not by crawling traffic and crowded slums but by efficient transport connections and decent formal housing.

And while a sprawling pancake is likely to impose steep burdens on the climate through unmanaged vehicle emissions, a pyramid allows leaders to plan for the city’s future population growth and spatial expansion in ways that will limit or reduce its carbon footprint. But not every pancake can become a pyramid.

When a city with low productivity and low incomes adds to its population, it cannot accommodate this growth through a costly vertical layering of built-up area. Instead, such an inadequate and economically inefficient city can absorb newcomers only by crowding them into low-built quarters and by spreading outward where land is cheapest.

Such a city will remain a pancake—and it will continue to expand in two dimensions, rather than three, as long as its economy remains sluggish and its average resident household remains poor.

As chapters 1, 2, and 3 have shown, pyramidal expansion flows from economic transformation. Based on specialization and tradables production, only agglomeration economies can be counted on to set a city’s productivity and incomes on an upward path.

And only a city that is economically on the rise will generate increasing economic demand for floor space— the prerequisite for land developers to invest in multistory construction around business districts and elevate the urban skyline. How can city leaders and decision-makers act to shift urban expansion to a pyramidal trajectory?

Read more in the full report, download it here.

What does it take to be smart?


James Rowntree, vice president at Jacobs, asked this question in Infrastructure Intelligence blog: What does it take to be smart? It is in everybody’s mind these days.

12 March 2021

Collaboration between city leaders, asset owners, investors and the tech sector is crucial in realising the benefits of smart cities says James Rowntree of Jacobs.

The term ‘smart’ has been used for some time now to broadly describe the adoption of technology by a city or infrastructure owner. The expression has begun suffering from overuse, particularly where the public experience of the result has been anything but smart, in the literal sense. 

Many cities and infrastructure owners have made technology investments over the years to automatically monitor or control things such as streetlights, water levels, utility distribution and traffic flow. However, these are relatively modest interventions when put in the context of ‘Industry 4.0’, the much-heralded fourth industrial revolution and the impact that real-time data and advanced analytics could have on how our cities and infrastructure assets operate in the future. If the hype is to be believed – and there’s good reason for it to be – then the future of smart is potentially transformational. The big challenge though is how to get there – and who pays? 

The use cases for smart cities are multiple, varied and growing, as anyone who has visited any of the international smart city exhibitions will be able to testify. It’s clear that relatively benign sensors that periodically transmit data today will be replaced tomorrow by real-time interactions which will allow for advanced applications, such as connected and remote healthcare, and connected ecosystems for things like autonomous vehicles.  

Whilst many of today’s use-cases will operate on current networks such as LoRaWaN and 4G, 5G is widely seen as the tipping point technology that will enable a lot of the next generation, disruptive use-cases to be realised. However, a challenge for cities and infrastructure owners is that predicting these use-cases is a little like trying to predict in the early 2000s the vast array of applications we now use on our smart phones. Creating a business case for a ‘smart’ entity is therefore not easy.

Connecting people and place

For anything to be smart it needs to be digitally connected and whilst satellite technology is developing, this invariably means hardwiring everything back to fibre. This then introduces the value of connecting people as well as things. Both local and central governments are actively encouraging reliable fibre-to-the-home connectivity for all citizens, recognising the value of closing the digital divide and giving people better access to 21st century jobs, opportunities and services. 

There is now a very good body of evidence that points to the positive social and economic benefits of fast and reliable digital connectivity. Cities in particular have an opportunity to promote digital connectivity as a platform for creativity and innovation that in turn is attractive to inward investment and growth. 

Unlocking the value of infrastructure

Similarly, owners of linear infrastructure assets see the opportunity to use their networks to promote the laying of fibre, unlocking not only operational use-cases and additional revenue streams for themselves but also providing a social value benefit through connecting people in harder to reach areas.    

The starting point is therefore to be clear on the outcomes to be achieved. The challenge for any city or infrastructure owner is to get digital connectivity where they need it and to build use-cases around the technology they intend to adopt.

Both urban and rural communities are generally reliant on the established telecom network providers expanding their fibre and mobile networks, although the timing and geographic reach of these plans is principally driven by their own commercial considerations rather than the specific priorities of a city or infrastructure owner. 

More recently, given it can be highly revenue generative, there are increasing numbers of private investors seeking to realise value from fibre ownership and governments are actively encouraging this in certain jurisdictions. The good news is that there’s a lot of cash available for investment in digital connectivity if only the right business cases can be established. 

Infrastructure Intelligence

Putting forward the case for change

To be both smart and to realise the benefits of connected citizens, public authorities are highly reliant on this private investment from either established or new telecom network providers. In turn, that private investment depends upon being able to secure anchor revenues to justify an investment case. 

For public authorities who can navigate state aid and public procurement regulations, they can attract this investment by either providing a future anchor tenancy commitment or encouraging others to do so. This all comes down to being able to develop their own credible business cases that clearly capture future connectivity benefits.

Defining and banking these future benefits is therefore key to being able to attract investment.  Whilst technology companies are spending billions on research and development and there’s a highly impressive array of technologies on the market, cities and infrastructure owners need to understand those that will truly add value. Technology remains nothing more than an interesting idea until such a time that it becomes accessible and deployable in a way that creates tangible value for the end user. 

For a city or infrastructure owner, it’s the consequences of this technology on business processes, people and training that needs to be clearly understood as part of the overall business case. These important points are often lost in the excitement of the technology but matter hugely to the ultimate buyer.

To realise the benefits of becoming truly smart – where city and infrastructure operations are a fusion of the physical and cyber worlds – is highly complex and requires the alignment of interests across the technology, telecommunications and investment sectors in collaboration with the city leadership and asset owners.  

James Rowntree is vice president – telecoms and digital infrastructure – at Jacobs.