Urban transportation problems in the Muscat area, Sultanate of Oman
The economy of Oman, was traditional in character before the development of the oil sector which set in motion the present structural transformation. Economic prosperity gave the opportunity to the public to possess their own private means of transport, thus resulting in a rapid increase in the number of vehicles in the country, particularly in the Muscat Area the capital city of the country. Free essential services such as health and education, and no taxes and duties have led to high disposable household income. Therefore, Muscat is witnessing rapid and successive land-use changes, expansion of the urban area and multi-car owning households. In the last two decades the population of Muscat increased considerably. This population growth was accompanied by a substantial expansion of Muscat's boundaries to provide homes, work places and other facilities. The topographical nature of the area limited the flat land available for housing, shops, schools, and other elements of the infrastructure. The resulting competition for space had as one of its consequences that insufficient land was allocated for car parking in the major activity centres, and the result was an acute shortage of parking spaces in these areas. The expansion of the Muscat Area was accompanied by changes in the employment and residential pattern. This resulted in a significant increase in number of vehicles, trips and commuting, and so the need for effective transport services and facilities became greater than ever before. The topographical features made it more difficult to provide sufficient transportation facilities. Development planning neglected the importance of arranging urban activities in such a way that the need for vehicle movements would be greatly reduced. It also resulted in low density population areas with street patterns mostly not designed for public transport services. This study sets out to discuss the problems of urban transportation in the Muscat Area and seeks to answer the following questions: What are the trip characteristics? How far do the natural topographical features inhibit the development of the Muscat road network? How does the existing network serve the needs of the area? How far can it cope with the traffic movement? Will the proposed major roads solve the present problems of traffic congestion and alleviate future ones? What are the main causes for traffic accidents? To what extent are car parking facilities adequate at the major activity centres? What is the role of Oman National Transport Company buses within the public transport system? The Muscat Area faces problems of traffic congestion and accidents, high demand on parking facilities and inadequate public transport. The situation is liable to deteriorate sharply in the next few years, unless effective action is taken. There is a need for a study that can provide immediate practical solutions and propose guidelines for future policy to ensure that the transport system is expanded and improved to cope with the needs arising from future growth. This study identifies factors contributing to the existing traffic problems with the intention of providing useful information which can help traffic planners and decision makers in understanding the nature of the problems, and finding solutions and guidelines for future policy. As far as methodology is concerned, a literature review is supported by fieldwork involving questionnaires and contacts with relevant authorities. Four types of surveys were conducted in order to collect information that can identify some of the factors that are contributory to the present problems. On the basis of the analysis of the data collected, urban transport problems are identified and discussed together with some possible solutions and recommendations.