Dubai Metro: A Technology Success

Dubai Metro (photo Creative Commons)No, it’s not another Microsoft code name for a Windows interface. If you visit Dubai, one way to get around with some of the best views is using the Metro network. At US$7.5 billion and counting, it’s proving an expensive way to reduce the number of people using their cars, and cut carbon emissions. However, as a technical triumph marrying transport and consumer technologies (with some impressively architected stations), it has to be admired.

As modern as it gets, the trains arrive behind glass screens on the platforms, with the train doors synchronised with the platform glass screen doors so that no one can fall or jump onto the tracks. Jump aboard and head to the glass-fronted first carriage for the best view of Dubai city, via some of roller-coaster evoking track curves.

Fares and Tickets
Yet more evidence of modernity, the Dubai Metro uses the ‘Nol’ Card, a unified automated fare collection card (UAFC). Nol is an old Persian word, which means ‘tariff’ or ‘fare’. Nol cards can be used for all modes of transport including the metro, buses and water transport with parking charges coming on. You can combine public buses and the metro under the same fare to complete a journey.

A Nol Card is a contactless smart card. You just hold your Nol Card over a Nol Card reader, and the reader is able to automatically validate the card, and deduct a trip or deduct the correct fare for the journey taken. You need to touch your card onto the Nol card reader, on entry and exit for the system to check that your card has a valid travel pass, calculate the fare for the trip you have just taken and deduct that amount from your e-purse, or deduct one trip from your card. If you do not check-out, the system will always deduct the maximum fare.

The balance of your Nol Card is shown when you check-in / check-out on Metro and buses as well as from any ticket vending machine and online at

Fares for the Dubai Metro range from a minimum Dh1.8 to a maximum Dh6.5 for a single journey, depending on the distance covered. This is a massively subsidised infrastructure project, so nobody is even talking about a break-even date. It’s not a unique project, there are schemes of this kind taking shape all over the developing world, but it does show what can be done in a clean-sheet environment. AJS

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