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Ineco to design Muscat public transport systems

Spain-based Ineco, a leader in transport engineering, will design a public transport system for Muscat in a 52-week collaboration with the Oman National Transport Company (ONTC), a report said.

Ineco will be building a system from the scratch, which will include development of an efficient bus network and stations in the initial phase, the Oman Daily Observer report quoted an Ineco official as saying.

"Omani authorities are handling it in an intelligent way by focusing on one company. We can now work with one team and it will be very successful and done within a time frame," he said.

Meanwhile, an agreement was also signed yesterday (May 24) to develop a strategic plan for a public transport system for the rest of Oman at a cost of over RO6.25 billion ($16.2 billion), the report said.

Ahmed bin Ali al Balushi, CEO, ONTC, said the new study will focus on developing inter-city bus services and also a public transport within other cities such as Sohar and Salalah.

Egypt's MNHD approves mall project with Saudi group

The board of Egypt's Medinet Nasr for Housing and Development (MNHD) has approved an offer from a unit of Saudi Arabian retailer Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair to build a mall at MNHD's Teegan development, the firm said on Tuesday.

Under the proposed usufruct deal, Alhokair will own and operate the mall for 50 years before transferring it to MNHD, who in the meantime will receive a share of the mall's revenues.

MNHD said the new mall would have a gross leasable area of 68,500 sq m and would take three years to construct.

"Such deals should help MNHD to significantly improve on its financial performance and balance sheet, enabling it to unlock significant value from its unutilised land bank," Cairo's Naeem Brokerage said in a note.

The Teegan development is located in the east of the Egyptian capital, across from Cairo International Airport, and will ultimately cover 3.5 million sq m.-Reuters

Emirates to launch new service to Bologna

Dubai-based Emirates plans to start a daily service to Bologna, Italy, from November 3.

The capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna will be Emirates' fourth Italian destination bringing Emirates' weekly flights to Italy to 56.

Set to be operated by a Boeing 777-300ER in a three class configuration, Emirates will offer the only long-haul wide-bodied service to and from Bologna. The new flight will add 5,040 international seats per week to and from the city, enabling customers in Bologna and the surrounding region to conveniently access key Emirates destinations in the Far East, Middle East, Africa and West Asia.

Known as the 'European Capital of Culture' Bologna is a vibrant economic and tourism centre as well as being the perfect stepping off point for travellers looking to explore the neighbouring cities of Florence, Verona, Parma and Pisa.

"The addition of a fourth Italian gateway is another new and exciting development for Emirates. We have been committed to Italy for over 23 years and in that time we have played an important role in increasing opportunities for business and tourism across the country, thanks to our convenient connections to over 49 destinations in the Far East, Middle East and Africa," said Thierry Antinori, Emirates' executive vice president and chief commercial officer.

"Our three class Boeing 777 product is second to none, offering our customers unrivalled comfort across the board. We offer one of the best inflight products in the sky, with multi-award winning cuisine and inflight entertainment and we are proud to be bringing this to Bologna. As the industrial epicentre of Italy we expect to see strong demand from both the passenger and cargo side of our business, taking advantage of convenient access to our extensive network in the East including our home, Dubai, one of the fastest growing economic centres in the world," Antinori said.

Home to a large ethnic community Emirates expects to see strong outbound traffic from Bologna to key destinations in the East across India, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines thanks to the airline's convenient connection times via Dubai. Top destinations for inbound travel to Bologna are expected to come from the UAE, Japan, China, India and Australia comprising of a mix of trade and tourism traffic.

Passengers to and from Bologna will enjoy unrivalled comfort and amenities on board Emirates' Boeing 777-300ER which is equipped with eight luxurious private suites in First Class, 42 of its latest lie-flat seats in Business Class, and generous space for 310 passengers in Economy Class.

Throughout all cabin classes, passengers can enjoy more than 2,000 channels of entertainment on demand on ice, the airline's award-winning in-flight entertainment system. Passengers on all Emirates flights also have the added bonus of a generous baggage allowance with 30 kg for those travelling in Economy Class, 40 kg for Business Class and 50 kg in First Class.

Emirates currently operates a triple daily flight to Rome and Milan and daily flight to Venice. Emirates also operates a daily flight to New York from Milan which will be operated by an A380 aircraft from June 1.

With the launch of Bologna Emirates will increase its European network to 38 destinations. - TradeArabia News Service

UUAE offers e-visas for GCC expats

The UAE has introduced a new online application and payment system for visas for expatriates living in the GCC on residence permits.

As per the new service launched by the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs, all GCC residence permit holders are now able to apply for an e-visa to visit the UAE. Visitors will no longer need to wait for visa processing at the airport upon arrival, said a statement.

The website to apply for is www.ednrd.ae/GCCIND . -TradeArabia News Service

73 new private health centres on way in Qatar

Qatar has as many as 73 new private healthcare facilities in the pipeline, with a 46 per cent growth in licensed private facilities last year, according to a report.

The Supreme Council of Health (SCH) is set to host an event for the healthcare community on June 1 to mark the completion of four years of the National Health Strategy (NHS) 2011-2016 at the Gassar Resort, under the theme 'Together for Integrated Care,' said the Peninsula report.

The annual event will aim at building greater understanding and support for the wide ranging transformation in health services currently being delivered, it said.?

Qatar has continued to have one of the world's highest population growth rates. To meet this challenge there has been a 16 per cent increase in health workforce last year, with the public sector now employing over 30,000 healthcare professionals.?

The public sector healthcare spending in 2013/14 was QR12.69 million ($3.4 million), an increase of 28 per cent on the previous year.

Meanwhile, the NHS has also grown in response to these challenges. This year, the strategy comprises 35 projects - six have been completed and closed, two new projects have been added, while Diabetes and Oral Health, and the National Cancer Programme has been brought within its scope of implementation.

Abdulla bin Khalid Al Qahtani, the Minister of Public Health, will speak on the vision for Qatar's health sector, and this year he will be followed by international speakers from New Zealand who will present their experience of developing local, integrated clinical partnerships to support growing healthcare demands, particularly those of patients with long term conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.??The presentations will be followed by an open panel discussion on the challenges and achievements of developing a modern integrated health system for Qatar.

It will cover topics such as the National Cancer Program, Seha, primary care, the new E-Health initiative, quality, and continuing professional education.

Mowasalat plans public transit expansion with more buses on Doha roads

Despite declining public demand and limited interest among parents in Qatar to send their children to school on buses, the country's state-owned transportation firm has announced plans to massively increase its fleet size in the coming years.

That includes increasing the number of school buses 42 percent to 780 vehicles, Mowasalat officials said at a press conference yesterday.

To encourage parents to actually use the service, the company has been experimenting with a new Smartphone app that would allow school buses carrying children to be tracked via GPS.

Speaking to Doha News, executive director Nasser Al Khanji said that some 80 buses from three schools would initially be outfitted with the technology as part of a three-month trial starting in time for the start of the new school year in September. He added that the GPS service would be rolled out to buses serving some 227 schools across the country.

Only about one-third of the roughly 200,000 school-age children here travel to and from school on buses, according to a 2012 report issued by the Rand-Qatar Policy Institute.

Many parents cite safety concerns including the high rate of road collisions in Qatar, among other issues, as the reason they rely on alternative forms of transportation.

Several tragedies in recent years have contributed to those perceptions. In an extreme instance, a four-year-old student at the DPS-Modern Indian School died in 2010 of suffocation after falling asleep in her school bus.

The driver didn't notice her and parked the vehicle at the end of his shift, leaving it locked on a hot day.

Public transit


Meanwhile, with traffic congestion in and around Doha seemingly getting worse by the day, Mowasalat is pushing ahead to make public transportation a more attractive commuting option.

The number of daily users has fluctuated in recent years, including a decline attributed to delays and congestion. Currently, about 60,000 people use the bus daily, officials said.

In an effort to boost ridership, Mowasalat said it plans to more than double its bus fleet from 120 to 250 vehicles by the end of this year.

CEO Khaled Nasser Al Halil said the transportation company will take delivery of the new vehicles in stages, starting with 40 additional buses this month. That will be followed by 30 more in June and an additional 60 buses towards the end of the year.

Mowaslat plans to continue to expand its public transit fleet by 150 to 200 buses annually until the 2022 World Cup, Al Halil added.

In response to a question from Doha News, Al Khanji said that passengers will soon see buses running more frequently and into more areas of Qatar.

He said some routes currently operating on a 60-minute frequency would be changed to between 20 and 45 minutes.

Additionally, Mowaslat's route network and orientation is being rethought. Currently, most buses travel to and from Doha's main bus station near Souq Waqif.

However, four new "semi-circular" routes - No. 301, 302, 303 and 304 - are currently being run on a trial basis and are expected to be fully introduced next week in an effort to reduce congestion and travel times.

Additionally, there are plans to build five new bus stations across Qatar by 2018 to reduce the strain on the central bus terminal in Al Ghanim. Apart from one station in Asian Town, near the Industrial Area, the locations were not announced. However, the new terminals are expected to be integrated with the Doha Metro system.

Bus terminal safety

In recent years, the existing main bus terminal in Old Ghanim has been the site of several serious collisions, in which buses have rammed into passengers waiting on overcrowded platforms.

The scene of the crash at the Karwa bus station in Old Ghanim.

That includes a March incident that injured at least five people as well as a horrific crash in December 2014 that killed four individuals and injured several more after a Karwa bus crashed through a concrete barrier and drove over several people.

Al Khanji told Doha News that additional safety measures have been put in place following the incident. This includes fortifying bus stops in the central terminal with very strong barricades that "are fixed one meter underground and go up to one meter above the ground to avoid accidents."

He added that the pedestrian platform would also be reconfigured within the next five months to prevent passengers from dashing between moving vehicles to catch their bus.

Taxis and salaries

During yesterday's media briefing, Mowasalat officials also addressed changes to its taxi design, to reduce the number of passenger complaints about drivers overcharging or refusing to use the meter.

Al Khanji said a new system has been installed in some 80 percent of taxis of Mowasalat's fleet that automatically activate the meter once the vehicle moves more than a few feet with an occupant in the rear seat.

The new cab meters are also outfitted with GPS that prevent drivers from picking up passengers without the company's knowledge and keeping the fares for themselves.

Officials have previously said the changes have caused complaints about drivers tampering with meters or overcharging to drop by half.

However, drivers' frustration over their pay has appeared to increase alongside the rollout of these changes. There have been several strikes held by taxi and bus drivers in the last few years, demanding better wages and treatment.

The compensation structure for drivers differs. While many pay a daily rental fee of more than QR200 to their employer and keep whatever they earn on top of that sum, others receive a monthly salary of approximately QR1,200.

Al Khanji said that the base salaries of the drivers in the latter category have not been increased, but that they receive bonuses if they collect a certain amount in fares. He didn't specify the size of this commission, or the threshold.

However, he added that public and school drivers recently received a 20 percent increase in their salaries.

Meanwhile, Mowasalat said another new service will be implemented to allow passengers to order taxis through a smart phone app. However, no specific timeline has been announced for the rollout of this new service, which private companies like Uber and Careem already offer.

Mowasalat has 4,000 taxis in Qatar and aims to reach 7,000 by 2022.

Bahrain to cut subsidies for expats

Bahrain will begin cutting subsidies for goods and services to reduce state spending on its foreign population, a top official said.

Bahraini citizens will receive cash payments from the state to offset price rises when subsidies are removed, said Minister of State for Information Affairs Isa bin Abdulrahman al-Hammadi. Foreign citizens would not receive such payments.

"The majority of beneficiaries from subsidy of consumer goods and services are foreign nationals resident in the kingdom and companies but not individual Bahraini citizens," the official Bahrain News Agency quoted him as saying late on Monday.

The government will therefore redirect subsidy policies to benefit local citizens only, Hammadi said.

Like other oil exporting countries in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, Bahrain employs many foreign workers; about half of its population of roughly 1.3 million is estimated to be expatriate. They benefit from state subsidies which keep down prices of fuel, meat, electricity, water and other items.

Earlier this month the Bahraini cabinet approved a draft budget which envisaged the budget deficit climbing to 1.47 billion dinars ($3.90 billion) this year and 1.56 billion dinars next year, from an originally planned 914 million dinars last year.

The government will have to borrow to bridge its budget gap, so "now the government borrows to support citizens only," Hammadi was quoted as saying.

He did not give a specific timetable for subsidy cuts or say how big they might be. The subsidy for meat, which costs 47 million dinars, may be the first to be removed, but it is small compared to electricity and water subsidies, he said.

The budget draft sees spending on non-oil subsidies rising to 754 million dinars in 2015 from an originally planned 661 million dinars in 2014, and then falling back to 653 million dinars in 2016. Oil subsidies would total 103 million dinars this year and 105 million dinars next year.

Subsidy cuts could push up consumer prices in Bahrain and put upward pressure on foreign workers' wages, potentially hurting companies' competitiveness. Hammadi said the new policy would take into account the issue of competitiveness.

78 expats deported for driving without licence

Oil-rich Kuwait has decided to deport 78 expatriates caught driving without licence under a new law introduced in April, newspapers reported on Sunday.

The 78 drivers were caught in intensified police campaigns on roads between April 23 and May 18, they said, quoting interior ministry undersecretary Abdullah Al Muhanna.

"There are instruction not to tolerate such offences which are considered a serious violation of the law as they endanger human lives.our aim is to end this phenomenon to curb accidents and eliminate road anarchy," he said.

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