Traffic-related lost hours, fuel and pollution cost Dubai AED3bn ($817m) a year. The cost in Saudi Arabia’s economy is staggering at $21bn.

Reducing car-dependence is an obvious solution in addressing this chronic problem. However, the grim state of public transportation networks across the region has deeply reinforced the culture of car reliance. Apart from hygiene and safety, the bus stations are not easily accessible from an individual’s place of residence or employment, or bus services are usually infrequent and not on time.

This has meant that, unlike in most developed cities, public transport across the region has become the domain of low-income workers who cannot afford the convenience offered by a private car. Cheap fuel and the absence of direct taxes on cars also made car ownership very affordable and a necessity especially in cities where most urban development has taken a laissez-faire, developer-driven approach.

What started out as an argument for individual convenience is now causing collective inconvenience in the form of urban congestion, which is quickly affecting the quality of life of urban dwellers, in addition to causing a dent to state and municipal budgets and to the environment.

Cognisant of this problem and its long-term impact to city management, most cities across the region has put in place a transport masterplan, which is usually subsumed in their long-term economic vision.

Without exemption, these transport plans include the construction of an urban mass rail scheme – whether a metro, tram or a light rail transit – to wean citizens away from their car. Some local governments, particularly Abu Dhabi, have also implemented proactive planning policies and control to encourage transit-oriented development.

The long-term impact of urban growth makes these metro schemes imperative, although the new oil era means most of them will be postponed or delayed, and falling liquidity means fewer banks and financing institutions could be forthcoming with credit to finance their construction.

But what worries most urban planning experts, more than the threat of low oil price and low spending budget, is the lack of a strong will to develop and implement policies that would require developers to adopt climate-conscious design with the individual, not the car, in mind.