DUBAI: H.H. Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, First Deputy Ruler of Dubai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, and H.H. Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of Etihad Rail, today witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and Etihad Rail, the developer and operator of the national railway network of the UAE.

The signing of the MoU, which came during the World Governments Summit (WGS) 2024, marks the first step in a joint venture which will see the RTA developing ticket booking and fare payment solutions through its nol system.

The MoU supports the UAE Digital Government Strategy 2025 and the Dubai Digital Strategy aiming for a digital transformation in Dubai.

H.H. Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said, “This MoU will foster integration among federal and local entities. It is an important step to introduce ticket reservation and payment systems which will be available to Etihad Rail’s passengers across the UAE. It marks a milestone in driving the integration between RTA’s transport modes and Etihad Rail, which represents a massive addition to the UAE’s mass transportation.

“The directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, call for enhancing coordination and collaboration among government institutions, exchanging pioneering expertise between entities, establishing a unified digital platform, and developing shared digital capabilities. The ultimate goal is to offer integrated, user-friendly, and efficient digital services,” he added.

Commenting on the agreement, H.H. Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan stressed the importance of the partnership between Etihad Rail and the RTA in unifying their collective endeavours, enabling Etihad Rail to leverage RTA’s expertise in deploying smart technologies and solutions to support Etihad Rail’s efforts to operate trains for passengers across the country that are safe, reliable, convenient and in line with global standards.

He also noted that these plans are a key part of the broader framework of the national railway network, which, in a short period and thanks to the directives of the country’s wise leadership, has achieved a leading position within the growing transportation and infrastructure sectors in the UAE, consequently, driving economic development through a diverse and inclusive workforce, in line with the UAE’s position as a regional and global transportation hub.

The signing ceremony was also attended by Mohammad bin Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs. The agreement was signed by Mattar Al Tayer, Director-General, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the RTA, and Shadi Malak, CEO of Etihad Rail.

The partnership between Etihad Rail and RTA aims to bolster Etihad Rail's efforts to develop high-standard passenger trains, ensuring a safe, reliable, and convenient travel experience across the national railway network. Under the guidance of the UAE's leadership, this network has quickly achieved a high standing, playing a significant role in enhancing the UAE’s transport and infrastructure ecosystem. Additionally, it contributes to the development of a diversified and comprehensive national economy, in line with the UAE's status as a key regional and global transportation hub.

Mattar Al Tayer said, “This MoU supports the integration of public transportation systems with Etihad Rail aiming to offer seamless travel experiences for passengers across Dubai and other emirates by train. This initiative also aligns with nol's strategy to broaden the use of nol cards across a variety of services, products, and solutions offered by external partners from both government and private entities. It seeks to enhance nol card users' experience by consolidating multiple services into a single card, thereby contributing to the development of the national public transportation system through the implementation of a comprehensive first and last-mile strategy. Moreover, this initiative further supports RTA’s goal of expanding collaboration with various entities, particularly those involved in public transportation in line with top international standards and practices.”

The nol card is a versatile smart card used for paying transportation fares across the RTA’s public transport networks in Dubai. Additionally, it serves as a means to pay for parking fees at RTA parking zones. It can also be used to pay for entry fees at various attractions such as the Etihad and Shindagha museums, as well as the Dubai Ladies Club, alongside making purchases at select retail stores. In 2023, the daily average of nol card use amounted to 2.5 million payment transactions valued at more than AED2 billion. The number of active nol card users has surpassed five million, with over 30 million cards being sold since the system was introduced in September 2009.

RTA had recently contracted a project to upgrade the existing nol system, which involves transitioning from traditional plastic card technology to a more sophisticated system supported by digital payment technologies known as Account Based Ticketing, aligning with top international practices at an estimated cost of AED350 million.

The project aims to introduce a digital payment system using central transportation tariff wallet technology, fostering seamless integration among various transportation modes in Dubai. It offers numerous advantages and benefits, including the comprehensive advancement of payment system technologies to meet the rigorous standards of electronic and financial security. Moreover, it focuses on operational enhancements and maximising the benefits from system-generated data, while also tailoring services and products to meet individual customer needs.

RTA rolled out the nol Card on 9 September 2009, coinciding with the launch of the Dubai Metro. Since then, the card has eased the movement of public transportation users and streamlined the payment of public parking fees in Dubai. In 2017, RTA expanded the card’s uses to encompass payment services at retail stores and entry fees to various public and private facilities across Dubai. This expansion resonates with RTA’s digital strategy aimed at broadening nol Card services.