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10 December 2023

Dubai move to privatise water taxis

By Ashaba Abdul Basti

On the move: Plans are in place to make more of Dubai's water transport system. (Supplied)
Water transport in Dubai is to be privatised to boost investment and efficiency in the sector, Emirates Business 24|7 has learned. The Marine Transport Agency, the Roads and Transport Authority’s specialist arm, wants to allow private operators to run ferries and waterbuses.
Mohammed Obaid Al Mulla, chief executive of the Marine Transport Agency, said: “We want to encourage the participation of the private sector so they use their expertise to improve the water transport service for passengers in Dubai.”

Dubai water services are used by around 27 million people annually, a figure expected to rise to around 40 million in the coming years. Al Mulla said by allowing private operators, the agency would encourage competition that would benefit passengers. The MTA would retain a registration and regulatory role and would concentrate on building infrastructure, such as docks.

Tendering of ferry and waterbus services to private operators will begin next year and will be on a “build, operate and transfer” basis, under which private agencies will also be allowed to bring in their own vessels. Private operators will be given full managerial control over their operations in the areas of vessel maintenance and procurement, security and safety, environment protection, crew and training.

One area the MTA will not be privatising is the operation of water taxis. The agency plans to have a fleet of high-speed boats to operate as water taxis by October next year, and commuters will be able to hire them by calling a centralised reservation desk, said Al Mulla.

The United States and Australia, which have well-established private water transport services, receive more than $25bn and $350m respectively in annual revenues from the sector.

In Dubai, privatised marine transport will exist with other marine services, such as luxury cruises and boat charters. The agency plans to spend up to Dh2.2bn by 2020 on infrastructure for water transport in a bid to make it a reliable means of transport in and outside Dubai. The MTA has 10 waterbuses on Dubai Creek operated by Singaporean company Penguin Boats International Limited on a Dh8.9m tender for two years.

There are also 149 traditional water taxis, or abras, operated privately.

Sairi Ismail, Head of Dubai Operations for Penguin Boats, said: “Passenger marine transport in Dubai has a bright future. It is an economically viable venture that we intend to invest in extensively.”