Dubai, the Middle Eastern city of intrigue, regularly tops the list of best tourist destinations in the world and it is easy to see why.
The audacious architecture, gold dipped glamor and their tenacity to do everything in the grandest possible scale is a winning formula that has managed to enthrall and lure in thousands of tourists every year. In a city where supersized hotels and designer cars are as commonplace as the tiny shawarma joints behind every corner, it is safe to say moderation isn’t in the dictionary around here.
But any self respecting tourist city needs a great public transportation system. I mean, it is much easier to explore a city when you can get around more comfortably, right?
Dubai has certainly taken that thought to heart, with no better example of that than its metro system; a state of art light rail system that stretches from one end of the city to the other. The driverless system runs up to seventy five kilometers and offers a convenient transit mode to all the popular hotspots of the city.
However, the metro system can be a bit difficult to navigate for those new to the Emirate. If you are planning a visit to the Gulf metropolis, here is everything you need to know about its metro system!
Table of Contents
The history of the Dubai Metro
The Dubai Metro was first envisioned in 2005 and the government wasted no time in putting the Dubai metro plan in motion. On May 29th of the same year, the Dubai Municipality signed a deal with Dubai Rapid Link, a conglomerate headed by Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan. The deal was reported to be in the range of twelve and a half billion United Arab Emirates Dirhams (in excess of three billion US Dollars.)
Dubai Rapid Link was also granted another lucrative project (valued at almost two billion AED) for the maintenance of the metro system for a period of fifteen years, ending on the 29th of May 2020.
Construction kicked off in October 2005. The initial Dubai metro map plan had two lines; Dubai metro line red and a Dubai metro line green. The former was to run between Rashidiya Station and what is now called UAE Exchange (more on the naming later) while the latter would offer travel between Dubai Airport Free Zone and Dubai Healthcare City. These goals have since been revised with the Red Line currently being expanded till the Expo 2020 site.
By March 2007, a whole eighteen months since its inception, there were over seven thousand personnel working on the project. Four months later, sixty percent of the Red Line had been completed and the metro was racing towards its final stages.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai was an occasional visitor to the construction sites and in November of that year, he rode a trial carriage between two Dubai metro zones – these two stations would go on to be named Al Ittihad and Al Rigga Metro Stations. The workforce employed for the project now totaled at around sixteen thousand.
On March of the following year, the Roads and Transports Authority (RTA) made an unprecedented announcement that would, in hindsight, turn out to be an excellent business strategy. Rather than naming each station, the RTA announced that they would sell naming rights to twenty three stations while eight would be named after the partners who co-funded the development. It would later be revealed that the RTA made a profit of 1.8 Billion AED (490 million USD) from just the first batch of stations for bidding. This strategy was later adopted by The Chicago Transit Authority and New York has toyed with the same idea too.
Some of the notable companies that bought naming rights include Majid Al Futtaim (Mall of Emirates and Deira City Center), Nakheel, and Sharaf DG.
Twenty four thousand employees were working on the metro system at this stage.
The Dubai Metro train system was opened on the 9th of September 2009 to much fanfare and Sheikh Mohammed swiped the Metro’s first ticket as the clock ticked 9.09 PM. His first stop was at Dubai International Financial Centre Station where he placed a gold coin marking the occasion. It is still present at the metro station so be sure to drop in when you are passing Financial Center!
How to use the Dubai Metro
To use the Dubai Metro, you first need to understand the Nol card.
The Nol card is a smart RFID card that allows you to pay for various transportation systems across Dubai. This includes the Metro, buses, ferries, trams and even car parking. The card has now been expanded to cover grocery payments, public park fees, taxi fares and so much more. In simple terms, the Nol card is a single gateway for travel and expenses across the sprawling metropolis.
With Dubai’s drive to be a smart city, cash is no longer a direct payment method for many modes of transportation, so you need a Nol card to get around. They are issued at ticket offices and ticket vending machines (most often found in a metro station).
There are different types of Nol cards, and the correct choice depends on your needs.
For a tourist, the tourist card might be a better option and for a resident, the silver is recommended. If you want a more comfortable and exclusive seat, the gold ticket should be your go-to.
Your Nol card needs to have a minimum balance of AED 7.5 to start a journey and yes, it is possible to check the balance of your card. Simply check it at a ticket vending machine or ask the ticket attendee at the desk!
The Red ticket can be purchased for a single trip or multiple trips (of up to 10). The card will cost you AED 2 and the price will depend on which zone you are traveling to – we’ll get into that below. Alternatively, you can buy a day pass for AED 20 which offers unlimited rides till midnight (22 AED when you factor in the card).
Metro stations are grouped into zones. If you are traveling between zones, the cost is AED 3 but as you travel to zones further away, the price of a ticket increases.
The Silver card will cost you AED 25 and your digital wallet needs at least AED 7.5 to travel the metro.
The same applies for the Gold card but each ride using the Gold card will cost you double. For example, if it costs you AED 3 from point A to point B on Silver, it will cost AED 6 when you are using the Gold card.
If you are willing to fork out AED 80, you can get your own personalized blue Nol card, complete with your own picture. The cost of a ticket is the same as the Silver card. However, if you are disabled and possess the Blue Nol Card, you are entitled for free rides.
Protip; if your little kid is under the age of five and is under ninety centimeters, he or she can ride absolutely free with no need for a card!
Reloading your RTA Nol Card is an absolute breeze thanks to the many vending machines present at metro stations. You can pay using both cash or card. Be warned though, they accept only UAE Dirhams, but many stations have a money exchange center. Don’t count on it and always carry local currency.
Now that you are educated on the Dubai Nol card, let’s move on the Dubai metro.
Dubai’s metro stations’ locations vary; some are built above the ground, giving riders great views of iconic landmarks like the Dubai Mall and Financial Center while some are underground, similar to the London Tube.
Protip; Use the journey planning app by the RTA, Wojhati, to help plan your journey and use the shortest or fastest routes available.
Currently, Dubai has two lines; the Dubai Metro Red Line and the Dubai Metro Green Line – although there have been talks and discussions about the addition of two extra lines. The existing lines operate on different routes but do coincide at Union Station and Burjuman where passengers can transfer between the two. You do not need to swipe out when transferring between lines.
Trivia time; the Union Metro Station is the world’s largest underground metro station!
The Dubai Metro operating hours are almost similar for both lines but vary depending on the day. From Saturday to Wednesday, the metro for the red line opens at 5 AM and closes at 12 AM while the green line starts at 5.30 AM and closes at 12 AM. On Thursdays, both metros begin at their usual times but close an hour later at 1 AM on account of it being the start of the weekend. On Friday, both lines open late in the morning at 10 AM but stay open till 1 AM.
Can I take the metro from the airport?
Of course you can! The Dubai metro system links directly to Dubai International Airport making it extremely easy to hop in and journey towards downtown Dubai. Trains stop at both Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 of the airport and run from 5.30 AM to midnight. In case you haven’t figured it out, the Dubai Metro train that runs through the airport is of the Red Line. Every station has a detailed Dubai Metro Map to help you plan your journey while some stations have interactive screens that help you find the quickest route to your destination. Or you could simply ask one of the helpful attendants at the station.
It should be noted however, that each person is allowed to take on a maximum of two luggage bags on to the metro, and that includes the hand luggage. The dimensions of the larger bag must stay within 81 x 58 x 30 cm while the smaller bag is restricted to 55 x 38 x 20 cm. On the upside, each cabin has its luggage section to keep your luggage safely out of the way. There is no restriction on the weight, but the luggage should be movable by the passenger alone and should not damage public property in any manner.
Things get a bit harder if you are arriving at Dubai’s Al Maktoum Airport. There are no direct lines to this airport so you will have to take a bus or taxi to the closest metro station, Ibn Battuta Metro Station in this case.
About the Train
The most important thing you need to know about the Dubai Metro is that there are specific cabins you are not allowed to enter. Each train has two cabins sectioned off for women and men are prohibited from entering. These two cabins are designated to the last two carriages of the train. However, women are free to travel in either cabin and are not restricted to the ladies only section.
At the opposite end is the Gold cabin, a more premium carriage with comfortable seats (and generally fewer crowds). If you have the tourist card (red) or the general Silver card, you are not allowed to use the Gold cabin. You can get fined for breaking these rules and claiming ignorance might not always get you out of the jam so be sure to read the notices before entering. The women only cabins are marked with a pink sticker at the entrance while the Gold cabin has a gold sticker near the entrance.
The Dubai Metro timings leaving nothing wanting either. Trains take no longer than five minutes to arrive and the headway is cut down to three minutes during peak hours – it holds the record for the shortest waiting time of any metro system.
Unlike New York’s subway system, ceiling to floor glass doors prevent anyone from falling off the platform on to the tracks. The platform doors function in-sync with the train doors and remain open for approximately fifteen seconds but sometimes longer during peak hours.
It is also worth noting that every Dubai metro station is designed to be a sort of miniature shopping center with convenience stores, washrooms, ATMs, travel offices and sometimes bank counters!