Dubai’s director general Hussain Lootah has suggested banning poor people from owning cars in an effort to reduce highway congestion. This “income threshold” would prevent all but the wealthiest of Dubai’s residents from driving on the country’s high-speed highways.
Oil-rich Dubai is in many ways a car lover’s dream, home to more high-end exotics per capita than any other country. With long, wide, and flat highways allowing for the kind of high-speed driving us Americans dream about, it’s small wonder that fast cars are so popular there. However, Dubai also has its fair share of social problems as well, including horrendous treatment of immigrant workers and some fairly epic traffic jams consisting of million-dollar cars shoulder-to-shoulder with $500 Nissans.
So what’s a wealthy oil sheik to do? Complain to Dubai’s director general, who came out with the suggestion that the cost of car ownership should be raised via things like insurance costs, taxes, and fuel prices…all things Europe has done. Fine, fair enough so far, right?
Then Loofah crosses straight into oligarch territory with the suggestion that there should be an “income threshold” for car ownership. In other words, if you don’t make X amount of dollars, you gotta take one of Dubai’s luxury buses or other public transit options. A similar ban was implemented by another member of the UAE, Sharjah, which passed a ban in 2008 that prevents people in 100 low-paid professions from owning cars.
Other cities have suggested working towards car-free downtowns with plans that take decades to implement. These plans incorporate greater public transit use, carpooling, and public awareness campaigns, but nowhere in Europe are poor people outright banned from car ownership.
But maybe I am being too hard on Mr. Lootah? The director general promises to build more metro stations, and goes on to say that green and electric cars are an important part of Dubai’s transportation future. But is he really just paying lip service to transportation trends? While I agree with the assessment that there are too many cars on the road these days, banning the poor from car ownership sets a dangerous precedent.
A lighter touch, like higher gas prices and parking fees, will naturally discourage many from driving if they have more affordable options. I doubt Dubai’s congestion problems are any worse than New York or L.A., so why the extreme measures? Because money, that’s why.
Dubai remains one of those places that tries to be progressive with green energy projects and talk of the future, but has a very “by any means necessary” attitude that often hurts the very people it proposes to help. Yet part of me is still drawn to the idea, however morally unjust, of highways full of just exotic, pricey vehicles. Perhaps if I was an oil barn, I’d have fewer misgivings.