The Future Of Travel In The Middle East
The Middle East’s massive population growth - from 186 million people in 1990 to 323m today - has catalysed a race to provide next-generation transport solutions. No other nation has been as proactive in finding those solutions as the UAE, whose skies, seas and sands will soon be filled with mobility technology that would have appeared impossible just a few years ago.
Saudi Arabia is working on groundbreaking metro systems. Oman and Algeria are building new rail links, too. Morocco is buying trams and Lebanon is pondering a bus-and-metro hybrid network. It’s a world away from the car-choked streets of modern Middle Eastern lore. And it’s fast becoming reality.
Last year Dubai announced that it would be the first place on earth to offer flying taxis. Not quite in the mould of Luc Besson’s Fifth Element yellow cabs - but exciting nonetheless. Last September the city staged a flight of the German-built Volocopter, backed by car making giant Daimler. At the event a Volocopter whisked Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed five minutes and 200m across a sandbank near Deira, the city’s historic heart. Volocopter claims it’ll be operational within five years, and we can’t wait.
The Gulf Railway, a 1,353-mile network connecting Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, was scheduled to be completed in 2021.
Perhaps most exciting of all is Hyperloop, a concept first dreamt up by Tesla and SpaceX chief Elon Musk back in 2013 - though the idea for a pressurised pod that travels on a bed of air was first devised, amazingly, back in 1799, by British inventor George Medhurst.
Medhurst was phenomenally ahead of his time. Perhaps realising his own powers of savant, Musk made Hyperloop, a “fifth mode of transport” that propels passengers at speeds of up to 760 miles per hour, similar to the way department stores fired documents in pneumatic tubes in the Sixties, open source. That means anyone can develop it. And the UAE will likely become its first proving ground.
Currently, a road trip between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the country’s two most prominent cities, takes around one hour and twenty minutes, and is fraught with traffic and dodgy driving. Hyperloop will cut it to just 12 minutes. Hyperloop One, a California-based company backed by Virgin head Richard Branson, appears to be in the hotseat: It has signed deals with Dubai’s DP World, and Saudi Arabia’s Agenda 2030, as the UAE and KSA try to roll back their carbon emissions.
This summer the firm showed a video of its pod flying along a purple-lit tunnel. It was thrilling, and looks feasible. “Collective commuting with individual freedom at near supersonic speed,” said BIG founder Bjarke Ingels - “We are heading for a future where our mental map of the city is completely reconfigured, as our habitual understanding of distance and proximity - time and space - is warped by this Virgin form of travel.”