|(Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
When it came, phase two added a gate to the Sheikh Zayed Road and one to Maktoum Bridge. Both of these, as the original gates, were avoidable, but only by taking a more roundabout route. In fact the RTA, which likes to trumpet its green credentials (even going so far as to award a silver-plated cow's aorta for sustainable transport), has created a system of tolls that lengthens thousands of commuters' journeys each day by taking the most direct route.
And so it is with the new gates, which set the extraordinary precedent of taxing travel between two emirates. You'll be able to make a tax-free Sharjah/Dubai journey by travelling out to the E311 (The Road Formerly Known As The Emirates Road), a significantly longer drive than the Ittihad road. This is predicated on the vast road improvement scheme currently underway on the E311, which upgrades the junctions leading up to the infamous National Paints Roundabout and is intended to remove the bottleneck at National Paints. This is scheduled, we are told, for completion in April. I'll be delighted if it is, but looking at the current state of National Paints I simply can't see it happening.
What will happen if the changes to National Paints aren't ready or, worse, turn out not to work? Will the RTA go ahead, turn on Salik on April 15 (the announced 'go live' date) and create massive, snarling jams on a road already comprehensively choked by the large volume of inter-emirate traffic it carries? The move will certainly put huge pressure on a brand new road network in a known and notorious traffic hotspot. But then it's Sharjah's problem, isn't it? Dubai won't care, it'll be too busy counting the proceeds.
Back when it was launched, Salik was meant to raise Dhs600 million a year in fees according to 'traffic expert' and chairman of the RTA, Mattar Al Tayer. It's consistently whizzed past those targets, raising a stunning Dhs669 million in 2008 and 776 million in 2009. Media reports in 2011 told of Salik being used to underpin securitised loans of Dhs 2.93 billion based on its revenues to 2015. Apart from that, we have seen few up to date figures on Salik revenues - but a four year loan of Dhs2.93 billion would be about consistent with 2009 revenues - a tad over Dhs730 million a year. There's no doubt, whatever its impact on traffic has been, it has been an amazing success financially.
Now, with the Ittihad road carrying some 260,000 vehicles a day, an amazing number but one that comes straight from the horse's mouth, the RTA can look forward to raising a cool million dirhams a day or a hundred million dollars a year. According to the RTA itself, the whole scheme is intended to divert some 1500 vehicles per day to the E311 or E611 Dubai Bypass Road. I can see a lot more than 1,500 people choosing to take the long way round to avoid paying Dhs8 per day. Most people around here would buy and sell you for a Dirham.
That's effectively a hundred million dollar tax on travel to and from Sharjah. Neat.
It also means you're paying Dhs28 straight away to any taxi to take you to Dubai before the meter starts ticking and Dhs36 if you cross any of the 'internal' Salik gates. When I first came here, you could get a cab to Chicago Beach from Sharjah for Dhs25. Ah, me, but those were the days, eh?