Passengers welcome air-conditioned shelters – but many say the busiest areas have been ignored and technical problems mean that they are not cold enough.
Cool shelters are a relief for bus users
ABU DHABI // Anish Jose stands outside an optician's on Hamdan Street, sweating as he waits for a bus.
"It's so hot," says the 29-year-old sales executive from India, "and I've been waiting here for more than 15 minutes."
Until the bus arrives, there is no refuge because the stop does not have an air-conditioned shelter.
Mr Jose, who lives in the Tourist Club area, depends on the buses, using them between five to eight times a day to travel between appointments. He would like at least half the stops to have AC shelters -and his wish is about to come true.
By 2014, the Department of Transport (DoT) plans to have about 400 air-conditioned bus shelters - although it has not said how many stops there will be in total - on existing and planned routes in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Gharbia.
So far 81 shelters have been built on Airport Road, Muroor Road, 6th Street, Al Falah Street and Karama Street, of which 70 have been switched on.
Of the remaining 11, some are being worked on, while others are closed due to "road improvement programmes" but will be operational "soon", the DoT says. No timescale has been given, however.
Even those that are functioning are no panacea in the summer heat. The shelter in front of Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre on Muroor Road is often crowded, says Mr Jose, and heats up quickly when people open the doors.
"The automatic doors aren't working," he says. "Many are outside waiting for their bus." That leaves passengers to manually open and close the sliding doors.
"The AC isn't cooling," says Abdulrahman Sultan Ahmed, 29, a Bangladeshi electrician. "I've been waiting for the bus for an hour."
Another passenger, Melvin Velasco, 31, a Filipino salesman, said the situation has not changed since he arrived in the capital in July last year. "The doors haven't been fixed for almost a year. The AC is working but it's just not cold enough."
He says the shelters in Dubai, where he previously lived, were better and more comfortable.
The DoT says the design has been improved from early shelters to make it more visually appealing, efficient and cater to bus passengers' requirements.
Each shelter is supposed to stay between 22-24C, and can accommodate eight people seated, eight standing, and one in a wheelchair. But that is often not enough.
Mr Jose complains that too many of the AC shelters are in "useless" places where the traffic is light - such as the one near the BMW showroom in Khalidiyah. "It's not a crowded area. Hardly anybody waits for the bus there." Instead, he says, the DoT should focus on busy areas like the Tourist Club.
Some are more forgiving, though. Kuruvilla, 62, from Kerala, walks every day from his flat on Airport Road to catch the number 54 bus from a shelter on Defence Road opposite Al Wahda Mall.
"Last summer, the AC wasn't working," he says. "Now it's cooler. It's good for us."
Luchi Santillan, 39, a medical technologist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, also recalls sweltering shelters last summer. "Now it's OK," she says, "but we need more of these air-conditioned bus shelters. Some bus stops in the Tourist Club area should have them."
The first 20 AC shelters in Abu Dhabi opened in July 2009 as part of the DoT's effort to cut congestion by persuading people out of their cars and on to public transport.
That, says Kuruvilla, is a worthy aim. "The roads are congested," he says. "You see many people in their cars but there are no passengers."
Ms Santillan agrees, saying authorities should make the buses more frequent. "The ladies section is often crowded so we're forced to stand," she says. "The hand rails aren't very comfortable either."
There are 569 buses in the emirate, and no plans to add more this year. The DoT does plan to increase the number of routes from the current 95, and to increase the frequency of some off-peak services.
* Additional reporting by Anna Zacharias