Thursday, 26 July 2007

Salik Surprises

So much has been written about Dubai’s congestion charge, Salik, that it’s difficult to contemplate adding to what’s already out there without a certain sense of resignation and perhaps a touch of fear that it’s just going to be a repetition of the considerable volume of incredulity, indignation, anger and exasperated invective that has peppered so many blogs over the past couple of months. Even the media, ever-aware of the burden of governmental disapproval, has tried to reflect the broad public dislike of the scheme. Strangely, few of the people who have complained appear to have been motivated to do so by the financial impact: it has been the apparent lack of a clear objective or a well-communicated plan of any sort that has drawn much of the negative comment in both on and off-line media. The response of the RTA, to the broad public concern has, at its least helpful, been to tell the public to stow it because they’re ‘not traffic experts’. The flow of information regarding the scheme and the ‘traffic management objectives’ that we’re told about as we hold for the Salik call centre to finish ‘helping’ other callers has hardly ever been more than a grudging trickle.

I am one of those people whose mobile numbers were ‘given wrongly’: I still have the copy of the form in which my mobile number is given with perfect clarity. I corrected the error over the ‘phone last week when I got through to their call centre. Today I got an SMS telling me that my balance of Dhs 2 was insufficient and that I should top up or face a fine. Now, forgive me, but I thought that one of the ideas was that you’d get an SMS warning you that your balance was low. Apparently not.

So I went to top up. I have to confess I was a little annoyed at having to do this on the spur of the moment rather than with a couple of crossings’ notice, but never mind. The Emarat station just prior to the Garhoud toll only has one till that can take Salik top-ups because they only have one pad of Salik top up forms – a rather analogue, multipart book of slips.

I can pay my phone bill using online and telephone banking, as well as my electricity and water bill. I can pay my traffic fines and I can even renew my PO box online.

But I have to top up my Salik account by filling in a cloakroom slip? So be it. I aimed to top up with a nice Dhs250 so that I wouldn't have to do it again for a good while. So I gave the girl my Visa card. Which is when I discovered you can only pay for Salik by cash.

What a muckle-headed slice of totally incompetent daftness.

But I’m not finished by a long chalk. You see, I then drove over Garhoud to hit the tailback immediately after the bridge. Because it’s gridlocked over Maktoum and the new Floating Bridge through City Centre and up the Ittihad Road to Sharjah. Because the traffic that’s crossed Business Bay to avoid Salik joins Garhoud a couple of hundred meters after the very bridge that this Salik scheme was meant to keep clear. It’s caused worse traffic congestion in the whole Deira area than we have every seen before and THIS IS SUMMER TRAFFIC – the number of cars on the road is something like 25% less than normal.

I thought I’d get a few laughs out of Salik but I, along with a lot of other people, have stopped laughing. Come September, when the traffic levels ramp back up to their usual heaving stock car race levels, there’ll be a whole lot more people not laughing.

Someone should really start doing some explaining.

1 comment:

Seabee said...

There are two very different objections to Salik aren't there. One is the whole money-raising, inflation-causing argument.

I haven't got into that, I'm much more concerned with the other objection - the wrong system chosen, the wrong placement of tollgates, the lack of understanding of the effects it would have, the premature start-up date, the cash-not-credit card, the unready IT systems. In other words the utterly incompetent management.

Whether a toll is a good thing or not is beside the point as far as Salik is concerned. The whole thing has been handled so appallingly badly that it simply needs to be scrapped, the people responsible replaced and the whole question looked at anew. If it's decided by competent people that a toll is a good thing, then a sensible system in the right location with the right back-of-house IT support and the right distribution system needs to be installed.

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