Less than three years ago, buses ran on only seven routes in the capital. By this December that network should be expanded to 123 routes bringing public transport much closer to everyone's doorstep. In an automobile-centred society, it has been one of the most striking success stories of getting cars off the road and public services to pedestrians, who are often lower-income workers.
While the development of public transport in Abu Dhabi is still in its initial stages, a lot of work has been done in a short period of time - with more promised on the way. "The first three years were like an engagement phase, a phase of getting the system started and people familiar to the system," said Saeed al Hameli, the general manager of bus transportation. New public transport options have helped to ease congestion and provided a more economical means of transport for many residents. It has been a day-to-day improvement in many people's lives.
When traffic congestion was at its worst two or three years ago, quality of life, especially on the island, was diminished for everybody. Road projects like Al Falah tunnel created traffic "black spots" that left people sweltering in their cars for nearly an hour.
Gridlock traffic on Muroor Road or Hamdan Street on a Sunday afternoon is still a reality. Every major city has to deal with congestion, but there have been welcome initiatives to alleviate the pressure. In June 2008, the Department of Planning and Economy acknowledged that the lack of public transport and congestion were causing "a heavy economic toll", requiring "urgent remedial measures".
The measures that have been introduced are beyond remedial. For many in the city, the bus routes have permanently changed their travel habits.
The transport network will also change the way the city grows and develops. New routes will make communities such Raha Beach more attractive and more accessible places to live. The expansion of routes into Al Gharbia and other outlying areas in the emirate will tie Abu Dhabi's diverse communities closer together.
Of course, as Abu Dhabi grows, so will its transport needs. While it is too early to call the bus network an unqualified success, it is well along the road. A feasibility study now is underway to determine whether a network of tramlines, which could be completed by 2020, fits within development goals. If so, that could take the emirate even further.