Letter to Santa: Dubai residents’ X'mas wish list

Dear Santa,
Thank you for Dubai’s historical win as the host city for Expo 2020, the corresponding decree by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, that pre-emptively placed a cap on rent hikes in the New Year and the emirate’s compulsory health insurance plan that will roll out a safe healthcare plan for all residents.

Considering the residents have been far from naughty this year, here’s a wish list from all those dreading the tentacles of a rising inflation rate that may thwart an optimist’s approach to 2014.

Inflation-beating salary hikes

Agreed, the UAE job market is upbeat since the Expo win, with companies reportedly bullish on increasing salaries and plans to hire staff. But can this momentum bridge the gap between pay hikes and levels of inflation?

According to a recent Mercer survey, which covered more than 230 companies across various industries, firms are expected to give employees an average wage increase of 5.2 per cent this year, bucking the global trend for limited pay rises.

The highest salary increases were found in the energy and life sciences sectors, although all industries had broadly comparable increase figures.

The survey also found that although pay rises in the UAE were in line with Qatar and Saudi Arabia at 5 and 5.6 per cent, respectively, inflation in these countries – excluding housing costs – is higher than the 1.6 per cent estimate in the UAE. This gives UAE workers greater purchasing power.

It suggests an increase in long-term incentives in the region, with pay-outs that occur over a longer period of time and which emphasise sustained performance and employee retention.

Yet, can this match the inflation rate that the UAE will be facing in the coming months?

Affordable school fees

The rising school fee has remained a bone of contention with many families who are unable to afford the annual hikes.

Added to the annual expense is the cost of books, uniforms, extracurricular fees and monthly miscellaneous expenditures that, some parents calculate, spills into additional thousands of dirhams over and above the tuition.

Despite the initiatives taken by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the cap on school fees still draws a blurred line between commercialisation of institutions and the compromise on education for the children involved.

Do high fees really promise quality education for our kids, Santa, or is this simply a revenue generating exercise?

VoIP calls

Earlier this year, there was jubilation that UAE telecoms operators Etisalat and du had unblocked access to Skype’s popular Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service in the country.

While VoIP was initially available for du customers, Etisalat jumped onto the bandwagon late in the game.

However, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) were quick to point out that under its regulatory policy, only licensed players were allowed to provide VoIP services in the UAE.

In a region where mobile voice usage is hitting a plateau, Skype and corresponding applications such as Facetime and Viber have become essential to maintain a competitive dynamic.

Traffic etiquette

We live in times where its normal to read about certain drivers hitting a record number of traffic fines, like the Bangladeshi woman whose 257 violations amounted to Dh201,750 within three months alone.

Another 17 people were responsible for committing 3,419 traffic violations during the past three months, resulting in fines of Dh2.2 million.

With the alarming number of road accidents and annual deaths, maybe it is time to roll out a plan like the Dubai’s traffic head suggested earlier this year, to slash speed limits on the emirate’s major highways.

Speaking with Emirates 24|7 earlier, Major-General Mohammad Saif Al Zafeen, Dubai’s Traffic Police Head, said: “I have put forth a proposal to decrease the current speed limit on major highways across the emirate, from 120km per hour to 110kmph. This applies to all the arteries, including Sheikh Zayed Road, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Road and Al Khail Road.”

Al Zafeen said the reason behind this proposal was to curb reckless speeding on the major highways, which is the number one killer in traffic offenses.

Also under the scanner is the grace speed, which currently permits vehicles on certain highways to accelerate an additional 20km over the posted limit without being flashed by speed radars and cameras, and therefore not being fined.

Dubai Police said it aimed to slash road fatality rate this year by one-fifth. By 2020, Dubai Police aims to reduce road deaths to zero per 100,000 residents.

Please make this happen, Santa.

Cheaper airfares

Despite greater connectivity that Dubai now boasts, popular destinations such as Mumbai and Delhi during peak dates still cost you upwards of Dh2,000 on budget carriers.

Venture further afield this Christmas and New Year holiday, and be ready to splurge at least Dh3,500 for a decent connection to London, while New York is north of Dh6,500.

Even though Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker has denied the very existence of a bona fide low cost carrier model in the region, with the opening of Dubai World Central’s Al Maktoum International Airport, opportunities for more low-cost models such as Hungary’s Wizz Air to take off for the region are higher.

With competitive fares on the rise, possibly budget fares could very well loom in the horizon as well.

Metro links between emirates

The historical launch of Dubai Metro on 9/9/2009 has changed the landscape of how people travel across the city.

According to figures released by the Roads and Transport Authority early this year, the number of people using Dubai Metro’s Red and Green Line transported 109.491 million passengers in 2012 compared to 69 million passengers in 2011.

Around 300,000 commuters took the Metro daily from January until November last year, but that number touched 364,000 passengers by December.

While the Etihad Rail project is expected to link Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain by 2016, passengers are still eagerly awaiting a metro line that will interlink Dubai with Sharjah and Ajman in the near future.

Commuters who battle the morning rush hour on the Sharjah-Dubai highway every day are hopeful that a project would greatly ease congestion in the morning and offer up a safer ride into work.

More parking slots

Head into Bur Dubai, Karama or Deira and you will be happy that you ride a flying sleigh, Santa.

The parking situation in some of the older parts of Dubai remains work in progress; while the situation in New Dubai fares no better, especially when heading towards Marina or Jumeirah Beach Residence over the weekend.

What adds to the frustrating situation is the exorbitant price charged by owners of private car parks that can charge up to Dh20 minimum parking, which only continues to rise with each passing hour.

Surely you could put in a good word with the boys at Dubai Municipality to construct more public car parks along the way that don’t cost more than the price of the car in annual fees.

Salik-free days

Ever since Salik was introduced in 2007, traffic on Dubai roads has been streamlined to quite an extent, even as we have once again started to feel the stickiness on roads, especially during office hours.

With an increase in the number of tollgates earlier this year, and the removal of the Dh24 daily cap, things are getting a tad expensive. Add to that talks of the possibility of increasing the Salik toll fee from Dh4 to Dh5 next year, and some residents are indeed worried.

Santa, is it not possible to replicate Al Maktoum Bridge’s Salik-free commute (once the Floating Bridge is closed to traffic) on public holidays and late nights when there isn’t much congestion?

The Salik toll is not charged between 10pm and 6am on Saturday to Thursday and from 10pm to 9am on Fridays. This system has been in place ever since the Al Maktoum toll was introduced in 2008.

Many residents hope that similar plans will be extended to other toll gates in the night, when the traffic is smooth.

Cinema manners

Santa, a reader writes in to us, saying: “I can’t recall the last time I went to the movies in Dubai and actually enjoyed the experience. Phones ringing incessantly, despite the message to turn them on silent mode; people talking on their cells like they are watching a show from the comfort of their couch, without any consideration to others around them; babies being wheeled into shows that are rated 18 and above...

“How did a movie experience become so stressful?”

Indeed Santa. Maybe this year’s wish list should include patrons being fined or asked to leave the premises if they inconvenience others in the cinema. It is only fair that people get a value for Dh35 or Dh40 they pay to enjoy a few hours at the movies.

Taxi decorum

If there is anything that you may have learned of Dubai and its residents, then it is their growing frustration of finding a taxi during peak hours, and then being turned down when the commute is not to the satisfaction of the driver – read higher fare.

Aarti G, who is a frequent taxi user, spoke of her regular woes, saying: “I once asked my cabbie to take a shorter route, who in turn started shouting that I was an imbecile and I should let the driver handle the route, even though it would add another 20 minutes to my commute.”

Others complain that even when they call a taxi, it sometimes never shows up.

To combat this issue, the RTA has introduced the Hala Taxi service this year, which has proved effective in the first few months of service.
But for others who have to waited for an hour and faced sometimes rude, and offensive behaviour, the only thing they can wish for is a safe taxi ride to their destination of choice.

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