x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Riding the buses to stress-free roads

The news that the capital's bus network is set for a major upgrade is welcome. However, convincing drivers to leave heir cars at home will be a challenge.

Take a drive in one of Mussafah's many industrial areas late at night, and you are likely to see lines of workers ambling alongside the roadway. Unable to afford the taxi fare, never mind cars, walking is their primary means of moving around after hours. But things are about to change.

As The National reported yesterday, transport chiefs in the capital have announced plans to add 30 new buses and six new routes by year's end. More, this expanded service will include 24-hour service to Mussafah. Next year the network will grow even bigger, servicing areas from Masdar City and Saadiyat Island to the Al Gharbia region.

For a car-loving country, the news is encouraging. The move reaffirms the emirate's long-term plans to promote public transport and reduce the number of vehicles on the road. In theory, traffic flows will improve and, as importantly, so will air quality - thanks in part to more buses running on natural gas.

But closer inspection suggests many challenges remain. For one, how can habitual car commuters and weekend visitors be encouraged to climb aboard a bus? Cheap fares are one way, but a common complaint, especially among men, is that busses are too crowded in the back (women have their own section in the front).

People on limited incomes will need no convincing. For others, public transport must come to be seen as the responsible, more convenient option. And for that to happen, a major cultural shift in how people view public transport is needed.

It is unfortunate, but nevertheless accurate, that many of the city's more affluent residents consider buses to be an inferior mode of transport. Policies such as the promotion of ride sharing and restrictions on city parking can help change this perception. For instance, the introduction of the Mawaqif parking system brought initial grumbles from some residents, but over time it has freed clogged alleyways. It has also, presumably, prompted commuters think twice about public transit.

Awareness campaigns aimed at banishing the stigma associated with buses can help increase ridership. Raising taxi fares might also help. But in the end, future riders will simply have to realise for themselves that letting someone else do the driving is a relaxing way to travel.