Saturday, April 24, 2010

My Opinion : At last, the great escape

My Opinion : At last, the great escape

The National staff

Last Updated: April 22. 2010 12:48PM UAE / April 22. 2010 8:48AM GMT
Jaqueline Wood, left, and Tara Roe Gammon embrace after returning to Heathrow from Costa Rica via Madrid yesterday. Paul Hackett / Reuters
As European skies once again filled with planes, the UAE’s carriers flew thousands of people home yesterday from their extended, unexpected stays in the country.

Both Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline put on extra flights to clear the backlog of some 12,000 stranded passengers.

Etihad said that by evening it had flown 31 flights to and from Europe, and was on schedule to clear its backlog of 2,500 passengers stranded in the UAE by today.

Richard Hill, Etihad’s chief operating officer, said it was on course to resume its normal operations by the end of today.

Emirates, meanwhile, said it had flown 9,000 passengers back to Europe, leaving just 350 to clear. Both airlines said they were not accepting new bookings to Europe.

Other carriers were also beginning to clear their backlog of passengers. “We are investigating all possibilities to accommodate as many passengers as possible,” said Lauren Cooper, a representative for British Airways.

Meanwhile, the airline industry was counting the cost of the six-day, near-total stoppage of air traffic in Europe, the result of a massive cloud of ash spewed out by the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland.

“Lost revenues now total more than $1.7 billion for airlines alone,” said Giovanni Bisignani, the director general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association.

“At the worst, the crisis impacted 29 per cent of global aviation and affected 1.2 million passengers a day. The scale of the crisis eclipsed 9/11, when US airspace was closed for three days.”

For Etihad alone, Mr Hill said the expense of accommodating and feeding stranded passengers, as well as all the lost revenue, had cost the airline in excess of US$5 million (Dh18m) a day.

After initial scenes of chaos in Dubai and airports across Europe, the mood turned to jubilation as stranded passengers were reunited with their friends and families.

My comments as follows:

The title of this article reflects as if UAE is the most unfriendly country ever to be with and the respective hosts of the guests who had to experience such an unexpected ordeal belong to the same breed. I am sure, every effort would have been made by the airlines, authorities and the respective contact parties to make sure this unexpected stay was made comfortable to the maximum possible by all parties involved.

Ramesh Menon
Abu Dhabi

To read it in original, please visit THE NATIONAL online

My Opinion : Safety experts fear city's new digital billboards may cause car crashes

My Opinion : Safety experts fear city's new digital billboards may cause car crashes

Safety experts fear city's new digital billboards may cause car crashes
Matt Kwong

Last Updated: April 21. 2010 10:00PM UAE / April 21. 2010 6:00PM GMT
An electric sign overlooks the busy intersection at Airport Road and Al Falah Street. Galen Clarke / The National
ABU DHABI // Hi-tech distraction or sign of the times? The city’s digital billboards are eye-catching indeed, but maybe too eye-catching, say local safety experts.

Their flashing colours and rapidly changing images are a fast-growing segment of the outdoor advertising market, but safety experts say they pull motorists’ eyes away from signals and pedestrians and could lead to more accidents.

Norm Labbe, a defensive driving instructor in the capital, said: “Our senses are being bombarded by navigation equipment, bright lights, music, cell phones, and now these billboards, where it’s almost like a strobe-light effect."

More than a dozen US cities have banned the popular electronic advertising billboards, pointing out that unlike mobile phones, drivers cannot switch them off. Several cities in Canada are also considering moratoriums on the technology. Here, however, their numbers are increasing.

Abu Dhabi’s digital signage is perched atop buildings overlooking major junctions such as Muroor Road at Electra Street and Airport Road at Al Falah Street. The newest mammoth LED screen, measuring 20 metres by eight metres, is being erected on the corner of Muroor Road at Hamdan Street.

Future Vision, the ad firm that owns those displays, rotates six images every 10 seconds, allowing as many clients to promote themselves using the same billboard.

The computer-operated billboards have been a boon for advertisers, said Rajiv Khurana, the Middle East vice-president of the advertising firm Dentsu Marcom. He predicts the number of displays will more than double in the Emirates within five years.

The problem, Mr Labbe said, is that such billboards are designed to be distracting in order to be effective. Changing colours or designs encourages drivers to keep looking for the next digital image to appear.

“It takes approximately one and a half to two seconds for you to react properly and apply your brakes and come to a stop,” he said. “A lot can happen in two seconds.”

Just as there is a growing body of research on the dangers of texting while driving, he called for local researchers to study how much of a distraction the signs pose to people at the wheel.

Results from US studies on the issue have been mixed. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which is financed by the billboard industry, found that the displays posed no hazard in 2007. However, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials reported last year that they “attract drivers’ eyes away from the road for extended, demonstrably unsafe periods of time”.

“That’s my concern, that this is one more added element to the mix,” Mr Labbe said.

Abu Dhabi’s preprogrammed displays draw more attention at night, and are even more hazardous at what Dr Peter Barss, an injury prevention specialist who works with UAE University, described as “complex driving environments” such as major intersections.

Dr Barss said the onus should be on companies profiting from the billboards to prove that they do not imperil drivers.

“The traffic environment here is extremely high speed at a lot of places, so it seems to me the potential [for accidents] would be high,” he said.

“When you’re trying to discern whether you go right or left, and suddenly there’s a huge flashing sign out there pulling your eyes away, well how many seconds can you afford to take your eyes off the road and not hit somebody?”

Although Future Vision’s three signs have video capabilities, Robert Awad, the company’s media executive, said Abu Dhabi Municipality was wary of allowing moving pictures to play above evening traffic. “They gave us the approval to do this latest technology on one condition, to make the billboards static, not dynamic,” Mr Awad said. “This is to avoid accidents.”

Even so, it is hard to miss Synaxis Media’s dynamic 224-square-metre Opulence, the largest outdoor LED sign in the Middle East, broadcasting “TV-quality ads” just above the Marks & Spencer on Airport Road.

The Opulence can broadcast video because it is not positioned at a major intersection, said Fahad al Absi, the founder of Synaxis.

“You can deliver six messages for the same campaign using the same space. You save six times the money,” he said of the display, which was switched on two years ago.

Adverts cost Dh300,000 (US$81,673) a month and can be viewed 600 times a day. It costs Future Vision Dh90,000 a month to operate its screens.

However, Mr al Absi supported strict regulation of electronic advertising placement.

“Having it face intersections where they think the ad might be more effective is not such a good idea,” he said. “Other LEDs might seem located in a prime location, but excuse me, it’s right behind a traffic light. That can be confusing.”

Samira Ahmed, an Emirati housewife, drives by the Opulence nearly every day and has had a few close calls in traffic while watching the screen.

“The place is wrong because this is like a highway,” said Mrs Ahmed, 46. “I almost had an accident one time because it was in the evening.”

Abu Dhabi Municipality did not respond to requests for comment, but officials with the advertising section said this month that three digital billboards have had their illumination levels decreased by 10 per cent after complaints.

My comments as follows:

I agree with the dangers of high intensity level getting beamed across the road from these sign boards. While, I also agree with the fact that such sign boards are displayed in other cities world-wide, but feel they are of low intensity and long duration. The higher the intensity and the shorter the duration, they tend to distract the reflexes of the drivers and may tend to create dangerous situation for accidents to happen. One prominent example is the sign board displayed at the Mark and Spencer building in front of the Cultural Foundations. It is too bright and many times dangerously create lighting effect which even block the colors of the changing signals a short distance from it.

In addition, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight another danger that is happening these days. There are several ads being played by FM radios, which has sound effects of cars honking horns and ambulance or police sirens, to create some advertising attraction. These ads disturbs and create driving attention and focus and authorities should curb airing of ads which carries such sounds.

Ramesh Menon, Abu Dhabi

To read it in original, please visit THE NATIONAL Online

Short Take - GULF TODAY - Dt. 24.04.2010 - Knowing the pulse

Short Take - GULF TODAY - Dt. 24.04.2010 - Knowing the pulse

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Opinion : Entire police force to watch roads for unsafe drivers

Dubai: Drivers beware. The next time you weave through lanes, be aware that chances are now greater for a police officer to flag you down for violating Dubai's traffic rules.

A new rule implemented beginning this week gives the approximately 20,000 members of the Dubai Police force the authority to issue traffic fines and impound vehicles whose registration has expired.

Earlier, only traffic police officers totalling about 800 could issue such fines.

The new regulation is aimed at curbing the number of road violations and ensure motorists are more conscious of their driving, said Major General Mohammad Saif Al Zafein, Director of the General Department of Traffic at Dubai Police.

All access

"Any officer stopping a motorist for any road violation will have access to his/her traffic violation record and will be able to issue a fine or take action in coordination with the traffic department," said Al Zafein.

Senior traffic officers will monitor the roads day and night. "I will personally take to the roads to monitor the driving of motorists and issue fines. This is being done to change the general perception about senior officers and that it is the duty of every officer to monitor driving habits. And I believe when motorists see that officers are present to ensure they follow the rules they will be more conscious," Al Zafein said.

In the first quarter of 2009, the total number of traffic fines issued totalled 727,054. This year, the figures dropped to 608,776.

This drop in fines is attributed to many reasons but one of them is due to the increase in patrols monitoring the streets.

"Patrol units from police stations backed-up traffic officers to curb violations," he said.

According to Al Zafein, the number of on-the-spot fines issued to motorists in the first quarter this year reached 278,964, compared to 251,336 in the same period last year.

Truck drivers committed 6,416 offences in the first quarter of 2010 compared to 1,852 during the same period in 2009. There were 3,884 motorists who were caught jumping red lights in the first quarter of 2010 compared to 2,612 in 2009.

"The number of accidents and injuries has decreased, and that is because a lot of people are taking more precautions now, such as fastening their seatbelts," said Al Zafein.

800: traffic police officers in Dubai
20,000: approximate number of personnel in police force
608,776: traffic fines issued in first quarter
278,964: on-the-spot traffic fines issued
First quarter traffic violators

The three most dangerous roads with the highest number of fatalities are Emirates road, Dubai Bypass road and Dubai-Al Ain road.

In the first quarter of 2010, 62 people were killed whereas it was 69 in the first period of 2009

"The most dangerous road in the emirate so far is the Emirates road which holds the highest number of fatalities. This is for several reasons such as the existence of both trucks and cars on one road, and the reckless driving that occurs there," according to Maj Gen Mohammad Saif Al Zafein, Director of the General Department of Traffic at Dubai Police.

The indicator of traffic fatalities that the department aims to reach is 11.8 person for every 100,000 of the population a decline to last year's indicator which reached 12.9.

"From the statistics of the first quarter of 2010 it is idealistic to meet this indicator thus we have a range from 11.8 to 12.5," said Maj Gen Al Zafein.

My Comments as follows:

I am happy to see this move, may be a side effect of constant effort to highlight such cases of rash driving happening around through community reports, letters and suggestion options at the Dubai Police site. Many times I have felt, life was at the mercy of some reckless driver who ignore his life as well as of the others on the road. Congratulations to sustained efforts by authorities to ensure a safe road for us.

Ramesh Menon, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

To read this in original, please visit GULF NEWS ONLINE

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My Letters - Gulf News - Dt. 07.04.2010 - Move smokers away from UAE mall entrances

My Letters - Gulf News - Dt. 07.04.2010 - Move smokers away from UAE mall entrances

Shoppers are being forced to inhale second-hand smoke at malls and near designated smoking areas causing health fears

By Bashir Mohammad Hijas, Gulf News Reader

I have been noticing a problem which I think should be highlighted in a community report.

My issue is with the "designated smoking area" in shopping malls. The entrance from the parking lots to the malls is often dotted with smokers, who fill up the air with exhaled smoke and endanger passers-by.

The designated area is in a place where [it affects everyone], including women and children. Often, this location is either not adequately ventilated or not ventilated at all, and the low roofs of the parking areas prevent the exhaled smoke from rising up in the air.

Passive smoking

Thus, the exhaled smoke and its smell lingers in the area for a long period of time.

Most importantly, this smoke endangers the health of passers-by due to the passive smoking effect.

There are several suggested remedial actions:

• Relocate the designated smoking area to a secluded place, away from the exit and entrance gates, so that it does not affect non-smokers.

• Build a glass wall around the smoking area to contain the smoke.

• Install heavy-duty smoke suckers, to trap the exhaled smoke. This would prevent others from inhaling exhaled smoke.

— The reader is a business analyst, in Dubai.

Be a citizen reporter. Tell us what is happening in your community. Write to us at

My Comments as follows:

I thank Mr. Bashi Mohammed Hijas for highlighting this issue of smokers crowding the entrance of the malls. It is a common scene, not only for malls, but other office buildings, whether you are in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. I had highlighted a similar situation happening in Abu Dhabi through one of Community report dated 06 April 2009 (strange!!). I followed it up vigorously with the authorities including mall managements and replies received were not promising as they had to find solution for a separate smoking area, rooms etc, which are costly. Rather than the amount of smoke inhaled while one pass by, I was concerned about the temptation, the younger generation gets by watching grown up men and women smoking away fumes waiting in front of the malls. It is a dangerous precedence and it will create an instinctive attraction to try for a cigarette in young minds. Authorities have to find solutions to these exhibitionism outside the premises as and when they introduce control measures to stop smoking inside malls and building.

Ramesh Menon, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

To read this letter in original, please visit GULF NEWS online

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Photo Speaks - Malayala Manorama 04.04.2010 - Camels grazing on Abu Dhabi - Dubai highway

Photo Speaks - Malayala Manorama 04.04.2010 - Camels grazing on Abu Dhabi - Dubai highway

My Letters - Gulf News - Dt. 04.04.2010 - Lazy pet owners must be more considerate

My Letters - Gulf News - Dt. 04.04.2010 - Lazy pet owners must be more considerate

Lazy pet owners must be more considerate

we donated some of our valuable time to certain aspects of our surroundings, the rewards we reap would be plentiful.

Obviously, these aspects are not about humans and the reward is not money.

I refer to animals and Nature as a whole and the prize is happiness.

However, such creatures demand a great deal of patience and perseverance.

That is why everyone from experienced environmentalists to nature-loving individuals, veterinarians and pet owners deserves applause!

Especially when the topics of major discussions [in political arenas] are to do with climate change and species extinction, conserving certain breeds of pets without depriving them of their natural habitat is the best service rendered to nature.

In distress

But when such services are done, it surely does not mean that other people living in the same community are put into distress.

Many lazy pet owners in Dubai have found a convenient place for their pets to relieve themselves usually in nearby gravel areas. This results in unclean and unhealthy surroundings. Surprisingly, these pet owners do not even realise that the same areas are constantly being used by many [other people].

Unless such areas are privately owned, this immoral attitude is [inconsiderate] and quite disturbing to others. There is nothing wrong in allowing pets to relieve themselves in open areas, provided that they are sandy and the area is suitably cleaned before leaving.

Finally, while performing a good deed, it is not appreciable to cause an inconvenience to the wider community

My Comments as follows:

Its really interesting to read the Community report on a simple but highly unhygienic issue. Well done to Meghna Tony. The children are suffering from shortage of play grounds and areas nearer to their home, and whatever available, should be kept aside for them with special care and should not be allowed to be encroached by their four legged friends and owners. Why not devote some time and give them proper training? Or why not authorities let a designated relieving area for pets? Well, it is too difficult to find solution to install and implement the automated public toilet facilities in place for moving public and so, let our four legged friends and owners enjoy for the time being.

Ramesh Menon, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

To read this letter in original, please visit GULF NEWS Online.

Thursday, April 1, 2010