Abu Dhabi // The Government has rescued a scheme to build 550 air-conditioned bus shelters around the emirate after the private company contracted to install and maintain them pulled out over concerns that it would not recoup its costs.
Passengers will be able to keep cool as they wait in the first 20 shelters by the end of this month, according to Saeed al Hameli, general manager of bus transportation for the Department of Transport. He said 80 would be installed on the island by October and all 550 would be operational by the end of 2010. Also this month, 59 German-built buses from MAN will supplement the existing fleet of 125 city and 30 suburban buses. With a target date of June 20, that should offer some relief from rush-hour crowding and reduce waits at bus stops.
Each of the 12-metre, air-conditioned buses costs Dh1.8m (US$490,000) and can carry about 65 passengers, 34 of them seated. The vehicles will also all have wheelchair ramps and five closed-circuit television cameras. Mr al Hameli said the Abu Dhabi Government's Executive Council had approved procurement of the shelters with government money, signalling that transport projects will go ahead despite the economic downturn.
"I can say we have the full support financially from the Government in all our projects we have announced and we are going ahead with our plan. "This is the reliability of the Government. They know the infrastructure for public transport is part of their improvement plan." The build-operate-transfer deal announced last July with Ströer Concept Outdoor, a partnership between the German Ströer Group and the UAE company Concept Outdoor, would have seen the contractor spending more than Dh100m on installing the shelters with the plan of recouping its costs by selling advertising.
Mr al Hameli said the company had backed out because of the impact of the "global crisis" on the advertising market. When contacted by The National, Marc Zeisel, director of corporate business development for Ströer out-of-home media, who was on hand for the announcement last summer, said inquiries about the project should be directed to the Department of Transport. Aldrin Fernandes, chairman of Concept Group, also declined to comment.
The department has hired a company to install the initial shelters, but would not provide its name. Mr al Hameli said it planned to invite tenders for the remainder in stages. Previously, the department had said it would open 170 shelters this summer, a proportion of which would be air-conditioned. The first with air-conditioning was opened in November near the Central Bank building on Bainunah Street. It has eight seats and standing room for 16 people, and includes a security camera and a monitor displaying route maps and city information.
Mr al Hameli said the department was keeping the same specifications for its shelters and that all 550 would now have air-conditioning. The department has pencilled in the majority of the first 20 shelters along Airport Road and Fourth Street, with locations including shelters near Al Jazira Sports Club and Al Noor Hospital. At the same time, the new buses mean people travelling from the suburbs of Musaffah, Baniyas and Shahama, as well as airport passengers, can expect an improved service, as the turquoise-green city buses operating around the city since last June will be added to suburban routes.
The department aims to increase the frequency on these routes to every 20 minutes, compared with about every 40 minutes at present. That news was welcomed by one bus user, Rex Ruby, a sales manager for a chocolate importer, who lives in Shahama. "We are in the summer now and there is no development," he said. "These are hot days and you are riding on a bad bus like this. We don't have AC, it is very dirty, no hygiene inside. I have to change my clothes when I get to work."
Mr al Hameli said the financial downturn and the impact of pirate activity on shipping schedules meant the intention announced earlier to have 125 new buses in operation by the end of March had been pushed back. Training drivers and getting the vehicles insured and registered had also taken longer than expected. However, the department was on schedule to have 500 new buses from MAN and Mercedes operating this year. By the end of next year it planned to have 1,360 buses running on up to 150 local, regional and intercity routes. Al Ain's service should also improve this autumn, with the arrival of 50 Mercedes buses, according to Mr al Hameli.
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