Dubai Metro vs Kuwait Metro

By September 9, 2009 16 Comments

Today, 09.09.09, is the day the Dubai Metro was promised to have been launched. The project is 75% over budget (SkyNews) and with only a small portion of only one line active from the first day, but it will be up and running as promised without delay. Will it be good for Dubai? We all hope so, but it is a very risky experiment. Kuwait and Dubai have very different urban structures. What can we learn from the Dubai Metro?

“The buzz in all major and minor circles today is hovering over just one topic & one topic alone: Dubai Metro. No one can help but agree that a lot is riding on its success. …With one million registered vehicles in Dubai and more than 1.3 million vehicles seen on the roads of Dubai, the general prevailing sentiment is: “Better late than never.” Many residents believe that it’s about time a convenient and diffused mode of public transport is available for the common citizen for various purposes: saving commuting costs, reducing traffic related stress levels, reaching work on time, getting daily chores done, etc.”

“The Dubai Road and Transport Authority adds: “Dubai Metro is bound to have a lasting effect on the mobility habits of visitors and inhabitants of the city. …This will ultimately impact the lifestyle of people. [W]e will be heading towards an enhanced version of mobility habits that looks pretty similar to the European model.” (Road and Transport Authority)”

Glass House

I really don’t care that the project has launched on schedule. The date, 09.09.09, was a cheap marketing gimmick that is fairly arbitrary in the grand scheme of things. To think that they rushed the completion, paying huge overtime and premiums, is unfortunate. I found this comment from the RTA in Dubai to be very foolish:

“When you talk about Dubai you talk about the seven-star hotel – the Burj Al Arab – or the Palm Island – the first man-made island – or the tallest building in the world – the Burj Dubai. We want the Metro to become a new icon and to connect all of these icons.”

That’s just incredibly stupid. I hope that wasn’t the real motivation behind the project. A metro shouldn’t link buildings together, it should connect walkable networks of urban spaces. This sensationalist marketing and branding of the city looks great on magazines and brochures, but will it really make your life better?



The main problem I have with the Dubai Metro is that Dubai is such a frustratingly linear city. You can see that reflected in the map. The Red Line starts at the airport and then just goes in a straight line, passing all of the Dubai ‘icons’, all the way towards Jebel Ali. This means that if you live along that line (and within walking distance to a station) then you can go up and down Sheikh Zayed road without worries. If you don’t live that close (and the vast majority of people don’t) then you will have to drive to a station. You can take a bus and then take the train, and most people will do that. But if you’re already in the bus, why can’t you take that all the way to your destination?

The metro will no doubt make that journey better, but was that really worth more than KD2 billion? A successful metro allows a commuter to walk comfortably to a station, take as few trains as possible, and then exit and walk to their destination. The Red Line will provide that experience to only a small minority of its passengers. The Green Line makes a lot more sense as it wraps around a very dense part of the city that is already well established and walkable. I don’t think the Purple Line makes any sense, and the Blue Line will never be built.



Kuwait City has evolved in entirely different way from Dubai. The high density of parts of the city are well suited for a public transportation network. The goal of Kuwait Metro is to link the three main walkable urban centers together, those being the City, Hawalli/Salmiya and the Farwaniya area.

It is critical that in each of these zones for the metro network to be highly dense. Everyone living in Salmiya/Hawalli and Farwaniya and working in the City should be within walking distance to a station. In addition to this, a complete overhaul of the pedestrian culture in the city is needed; meaning more tree-shaded walkways, more benches and many more secure, clean sidewalks.


Once the three networks are linked, people living and working within them will find that a car becomes optional for life. This is the whole point of creating the metro. The density of the City, Hawalli, Salmiya and Farwaniya will continue to increase rapidly, but there will be fewer cars on the road. There will also be a lot less stress in terms of finding parking spaces and also more room to walk and cleaner air to breathe.

People always use the excuse that few or no Kuwaitis will use the thing. I disagree on that point, seeing as how the plan makes sure that all major universities and malls are included. Even if the majority of them don’t use it, they will still benefit immensely from the reduction in traffic and the wonderful new walkable urban spaces that will emerge.

Dubai never really needed a metro. It will help for sure, but it is definitely not worth the cost and effort. Kuwait desperately needs one, and the city will benefit greatly for generations to come. This is an investment worth fighting for and getting right.

Join the discussion 16 Comments

  • Jasem Nadoum says:

    “Dubai never really needed a metro. It will help for sure, but it is definitely not worth the cost and effort. Kuwait desperately needs one, and the city will benefit greatly for generations to come. This is an investment worth fighting for and getting right.”
    Dubai has the will to make things happen. Kuwait has the will to make public mess out of things. I disagree with you on Dubai never really needed the metro, yes they do. We need it too, but i wonder how we can built such a thing if we are unable to finish a lousy stadium.
    Congrats to Dubai though. Good Job making us envious.

  • I want a helicopter to take me to work everyday. I can’t afford it, but I have the will to do it. Does that make it right? Of course not. It might make me feel special, and get me there quick, but it’s still a stupid idea.
    The Dubai Metro will make things better, for sure. If the Bus system is as robust and comfortable as it should be, and I don’t doubt that it could, then things might be a lot better than I imagined them to be. That still doesn’t mean it’s right, because they’re forcing a system that really doesn’t belong there. It does belong here.
    I do admire their ambition, no matter how misplaced. Yet when it results in outrageously incompetent ‘iconic’ projects such as Falcon City and that city with a million or so hotel rooms… It’s just insane.
    Personally, i’m glad I live here. There’s just something not quite right about Dubai. Or maybe i’m just really, really, jealous.

  • Jasem Nadoum says:

    You are really really jealous. The problem with the bus systems it uses the same roads as the cars and taxi’s. which means traffic will remain. The idea behind the metro is to shuttle people. As misplaced as you suggest, it is important to shorten the distance and time of commuting in Dubai.

  • Sami says:

    The difference between the Dubai Metro and Kuwait Metro is that Dubai Metro already exists, while Kuwait metro doesn’t, and never will.

  • bumo says:

    Barrak, just because there is no need for it now doesnt mean it is completely redundant. We do not know what are the plans for the future of Dubai, im sure their master plan doesnt just use this metro as an entertainment facility. Im sure it has a higher purpose, a purpose studied and planned in advanced.
    I have an interesting argument i once wrote for an arch criticism class comparing Dubai to Kuwait. I might upload it to my blog within the coming days if you would like a read. 🙂

  • Jassem, I would love it if more people who don’t need to drive start using the bus. That would start to create a natural demand for a more walkable city. Safety measures would require for that to happen. A bus also carries a far denser number of people than if you spread out each person into his or her own car. Same number of people on the road with less space.
    Sami, I don’t see why we can’t come up with a better plan than Dubai. I also don’t see why we can’t implement it. If we do fail, complaining about it and not providing solutions makes one a part of the problem. If we find failure and stagnation all around us it’s all our fault. We’re Kuwaiti, we have to shape Kuwait. No one will do it for us.
    bumo, I never said that it’s redundant. In fact, I said it would probably help ease traffic. What I tried to say was that there are much better ways that probably suit Dubai better than a full-blown metro system that cost billions. It’s not efficient to just throw everything on the wall and see what sticks. The Green line will be a success, and the Red line will be great for tourists, as it will act as a shuttle between all the different attractions; but it will not stop gridlock on Sheikh Zayed Road. I really hope i’m wrong, but Dubai just isn’t a city that makes it easy for you to walk from one place to another. I would love to read your paper, btw.

  • Niam says:

    I’m utterly impressed with this well put out blog.. It should be upgraded from a blog to some sort of architectural, motivating reference sort of web site..
    I do agree Babtain, Dubai has something wrong about it.. As if their motivation is to break records with numbers and more(ness)!
    I leave this comment inspired with awe and looking forward to more of these neat articles..

  • bumo says:

    Ive never been to Dubai but from what i hear, on a weekend people wait for Cabs by the hundreds at the exits of buildings… ive heard upto 800 sometimes? And that sounds ridiculous to me, maybe this will help?
    Only time will tell…
    I posted my paper on my blog.

  • hilaliya says:

    Dubai has a 9 to 5 Western one-hour-lunch break culture Kuwait doesn’t. The metros in Dubai are connected to gleaming terminals with everything you would want before embarking on your pilotless shuttle (kiosks, restaurants, coffee joints) etc. You arive in the morning dump your car, walk into the terminal, grab a Latte and board the train (which is connected to Financial district and other areas, no need to worry about parking).
    The problem with Dubai though is it hasnt linked the crowded cities (Sharjah for example) to Dubai and that makes the system impotent, nevertheless its probably being planned or instituted soon.
    Even if Kuwait institutes such a metro it will be:
    1. Bargain basement (cheapest tender, probably a Chinese or local company).
    2. It won’t have the large terminals with all the amenities.
    3. It wont be maintained, cleaned, checked to international standards, technically or otherwise.
    After two months of opening it will look like a dump with torn seats, cracked concrete etc.
    I agree with you there should be a metro here Barrak, I just dont have the faith you do in our governmental institutions or the Central tenders committee to choose the right one.
    If that makes me a cynic so be it, its only due to Kuwait’s track record in choosing, implementing, and maintaning projects.

  • Niam, thank you for that. This website was not meant to be a blog, but this form is the easiest for us to update and keep track of.
    hilaliya, I agree with you that if it is up to the government to design, build and maintain the project it will be an utter failure. I don’t think this is what anyone is suggesting. The current plan asks for private entities to invest heavily in the construction of each individual line. What they get in return is the opportunity to develop the interchanges and stations. They will own that real estate. For developers, this will be a great incentive for them to maintain high quality service.
    1. It will not be in their best interest to be cheap on the finishing. Most of the cost will be incurred in the drilling, engineering, dewatering phase; which isn’t really an issue of quality, but simply getting it done. Why ruin that by wrapping it with low quality finishes and design?
    2. The project must have large terminals for the interchanges or else it won’t work. They will generate lots more traffic if they supply adequate paid parking, restaurants and cafes and an overall clean and welcoming atmosphere. If they don’t, their investment wouldn’t see the return to justify their cost.
    3. I agree with you if there wasn’t a profit motivating the project, but there will be. If the projected profits don’t come near covering the cost of construction, the government should step in and subsidize the cost until it makes sense for people to invest; this is because the project is in the nations interest.
    I don’t have faith in my government either. This is why I think the best way to do it is the way it has been proposed, a public/private partnership. I wouldn’t mind investing in that, myself.

  • Abdul-Ghaphor Hajjieh says:

    Globalization strikes again.
    Just because a metro works in the west, doesn’t mean it can work for us.
    Also, the project lacks integrity. Linking some hotels and so-called icons by building a 2 billion dinar metro?

  • Dubai DO need a metro. Any city / country that has lots of traffic will do with a metro to reduce traffic jams and people on the streets.
    As much as I don’t like Dubai, because of the plastic fantastic feeling you get over there, it has no soul or a genuine identity, but you gotta give it out to them, that at least when they put a plan they make it happen, they push boundaries and they achieve, they have a vision. That vision might be wrong or not nice, but at least, they plan it and they stick to the plan.
    In Kuwait, nothing could ever happen like that. The Metro project was an idea brought approximately at the same time in Dubai and Kuwait. In Dubai its happening, its being partially built and used and in Kuwait its still on papers being “planned”.
    Kuwait’s government has RARELY fully done / adapted a plan that has been handed out to them by top architecture firms in the world for various projects, be in city planning or transportation systems. They always changed the plans and messed things up.
    In regards to the metro map, in my oppinion, I like the fact that its straight lines and no curves, its simple, it adapts to the city’s layout and that’s how underground system are. Dubai’s citys are linear when you look at them from top and I think with time and growth and development, these straight lines will be connected by other, more curvy lines, eventually.
    I also think you took the quote too literally “When you talk about Dubai you talk about the seven-star hotel – the Burj Al Arab – or the Palm Island – the first man-made island – or the tallest building in the world – the Burj Dubai. We want the Metro to become a new icon and to connect all of these icons.”
    What they meant by link is that the Metro will connect “symbolically”, the Metro is another icon that will close (or actually enlarge) the circle of great icons / great achievements in Dubai.

  • Yes, I agree, any highly dense city would do well to have a metro system, or any other form of effective public transportation. I just don’t think most of Dubai is has the sort of required density to make good use of it. Like I said, i’m not denying that it’s going to help. I just think that those billions could have been used in a much better way.
    Also, I don’t think that the quote was meant symbolically. You only have to glance at the map to see that. The Red Line is literally a shuttle service between the attractions. I don’t blame them, either. This was the only way to do it, really. The Green line is great (but is too limited) but the Red line has no choice but to simply follow Sheikh Zayed Road. What other option did they have?
    Kuwait: The impotence, myopia and incompetence of our leadership is legendary. There’s no denying that. Yet we do have the most active and energetic media in the region, and we do in fact elect our representatives. If anyone is ultimately to blame, it’s us for not demanding change and progress. It’s not helpful for the public to just complain and not offer solutions and alternatives. If we all demand change, it will come.

  • Marzouq says:

    I think that Dubai is going to have problems for at least 12 months streamlining the work and operations, I have a feeling a lot of shortcuts were made to get things up and running. As you the gimmicks were annoying and a metro line isn’t meant for advertising its meant to ease the traffic situation of the country.
    Another issue is that Dubai is linear and not curved as you mentioned and I don’t think the locaiton of the stations are practical. On another note I don’t think Kuwait will have a metro system in place, not even in 20 years and thats being optimistic.

  • Curved is the wrong word, it’s all a question of density; being the number of people that live in the walkable space around each station. Because most of Dubai is just one long line along the coastal strip, there isn’t enough density to justify this. You have pockets of really dense buildings around Jebel Ali, but that’s about it. The beginning of Sheikh Zayed Road is only two rows of buildings facing each other. There’s nothing behind them, no density. The whole thing has a Potemkin feeling about it. The real density in Dubai is in the old Deira area, where most of the Green line is, but there are only 3 stations in the really gritty dense parts. There should have been a lot more, but those parts of town aren’t New Dubai. They want to hide them, and so they’re not part of the tour.

  • Prasad says:

    Hi All,
    Its a nice discussion going on….. my compliments
    Believe me, every evening i take the Metro back from work from Jebel Ali to Bur Dubai and it has made a lot of difference , and there are the feeder buses that take you to the operating metro stations. It is making a difference.

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