It is almost impossible to function without a car in Dubai. Currently very few expatriates use public transport as the buses are crowded and take a long time to reach their destination. In addition, there are many areas which they do not cover. The metro is another option, but there are very few metro stops and getting to the stations requires a car, taxi or bus journey, especially in the warmer months. Taxis are more popular than other public transportation but the cost of several long journeys across the city can make your own transportation a cheap alternative. The climate means that in summer months you won’t be able to walk very far, preferring to be encapsulated in your own air-conditioned bubble. You will also find that the city was not designed with pedestrians in mind. Footpaths and footbridges are in short supply and trying to cross the many-laned highways is both illegal and very dangerous.
If you do decide to drive, then you are in for a unique experience. The many different cultures of the city can be seen in the wide-variety of different driving styles. There are many aggressive drivers who will expect you to give way for them. They will come up behind you on a busy highway flashing their lights and wait, only centimeters from your rear bumper, until you pull over. Conversely, many drivers complain of slow-moving cars that sit in the “fast lane” and refuse to pull over. Sudden lane changes are common, and relatively few people use their indicators.
There are digital speed cameras every two kilometers on all the main roads. They have had a marked impact on driving speeds, although reckless driving has certainly not been eliminated.
Away from the main highways, the sheer volume of traffic means that traffic congestion is a serious problem. Shunts and small accidents are frequent as tension rises, concentration levels waiver, and some drivers try to push into lines of busy traffic. Bear in mind that you should not express your feelings with obscene hand gestures. This may result in an AED 5,000 fine or, as in the case of one expat in April 2009, you could be sent to jail for 24 days and then deported back to your home country, together with your spouse and children.
Some wealthier families choose to have a driver or hire a maid who can also drive. This is more popular with local Emiratis and non-Western expats than with Western expats. Although not a cheap option, it can save you from the hassle of driving and, for families where both parents work, this is sometimes the easiest way of ferrying children to and from school and after-school activities. It is illegal to employ a driver if you are not sponsoring them. The procedures for sponsoring drivers are the same as for maids (see the section on domestic help) but you should make sure that the driver has a UAE driving license and is familiar with the roads. Live-in drivers typically cost around AED 2,000 a month.
There is also a popular chauffeur service known as ‘safer driver’ (http://saferdriver.ae) where you can hire a driver to drive your own car. This is especially popular for evenings out. Car hire companies will often be able to provide you with a car and driver (see the section about hiring a car).