x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Riding the people express

The Emirate's buses are just a microcosm of life

I imagine many people would find four hours of commuting to and from work every day an unacceptable decline in quality of life. But after almost three months of doing just that, I've formed a love-hate relationship with this country's public transport system. I suppose I should begin by explaining why, at 23, I don't have a driver's licence - a fact I've often had to point out apologetically and with some embarrassment in a region where Hummer owners are in their early 20s.

The primary reason is laziness. I couldn't be bothered working in an hour of driving lessons after a gruelling morning at college. I had also noticed how people with licences were expected to run errands in the car and drop people off at random places. The second reason was a nagging feeling that the two 4x4s my family owned were not doing wonders for an increasingly polluted Dubai skyline. The situation left me in a bit of a dilemma once I started working in Abu Dhabi. I live deep in old Dubai, just off Rigga Street. There are no easy options from there. Even with a car it is almost two hours from home to the office.

I really don't know off-hand where my reflex aversion to public transport came from, especially since it seemed ideal for my situation. I think on some level it was out of a misguided sense of entitlement: services I subscribe to ought to be tailor-made for me. But there was nothing else for it. I had to take the public transport plunge. And I'm pretty glad I did. I start the journey by flagging down a taxi to the Ghubaiba bus station in Bur Dubai. From there, I take the Emirates Express bus to the capital. Getting off 90 minutes to two hours later at the nearest stop to the office leaves me with a short morning walk that is guaranteed to wake me up.

On the way back, I cadge a lift from one of the office's Dubai residents all the way to the farthest Metro station, followed by a leisurely ride to the Rigga stop, where I get off two minutes away from home. Little of this time is really wasted. All of a sudden, I have time for books. I've rediscovered the pleasure of reading, which had been buried under a mountain of daily web links and information overload that could never have offered more than a shallow grasp of the happenings in the world. I listen to podcasts, work on articles, or simply sleep.

But the one thing I couldn't do without is the bustle, the sheer life of riding the bus or the Metro. Here are all sorts of people - businessmen carrying suitcases, students on their way to college, labourers carrying bags of clothes, families going shopping We're too often disconnected from each other. Public transport helps you connect again. The cry of the baby in the stroller, the tunes emanating from a commuter's headphones, the couple laughing, and the children straining to look out of the window. It's all very much alive.