x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Free bus journeys in Abu Dhabi

Residents will be able leave their cars at home and catch a free ride on one of 125 new buses going into service.

ABU DHABI // Residents in the capital will be able leave their cars at home and catch a free ride on one of 125 new buses going into service on Monday, transport officials say. The service is the first step in a public transport programme that will see 1,360 air-conditioned buses operating in the emirate by 2010. The free journeys would last until the end of the year, officials from the Department of Transport said yesterday.

The initial phase, under which 258 new and refurbished buses would be assigned to busy routes, would cost Dh700 million (US$190m). Major road improvements, plans for tram services, a metro system and water taxis are under consideration to be included in a Surface Transport Master Plan to be completed by Feb 2009. A report released on Saturday by the Department of Planning and Economy said the UAE lost about Dh5 billion a year because of road congestion and that traffic had exceeded the capacity of Abu Dhabi's road network.

Saeed al Hameli, the general manager of the transport department's bus office, said the biggest challenge would be getting people to use the new service. Public bus trips account for less than one per cent of travel and the department wants to increase this significantly. In addition to the free trips, the department would set up booths in malls where the public could give feedback or ask questions about the bus service, Mr Hameli said.

Route maps and flyers would be distributed and passengers could call 800-5555 to get information about bus timetables. The new city buses, which are air-conditioned and can carry about 45 passengers, were a short-term solution and would be replaced by "high-calibre buses" by the end of the year, Mr Hameli said. Buses would run on four routes at first, with six more to be added in August. By 2009, the department plans to have buses running 2,000 trips per day on 21 busy routes on Abu Dhabi island. Pick-ups at bus stops are due to be staggered at intervals of 20 minutes.

The current fleet of ageing buses, which runs routes to suburbs such as Musaffah and Baniyas, would not be upgraded and would still charge fares, Mr Hameli said. "The focus right now is on Abu Dhabi city. We will expand it as more buses come in." Some stops on routes within the capital will include Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi Mall, Carrefour, Zayed Sports City and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Mr Hameli would not reveal what fares would be charged for the new bus routes after the promotional period.

The plan to encourage public transportation may include air-conditioned bus shelters to be built by June of next year, department officials said. Improving the bus service is the first step towards an integrated transport network for the emirate. As part of the overall project, the emirate's 12 bus stations would be renovated and 25 more built. They would all feature a mix of retail, food and beverage and banking outlets.

Six depots would be built for bus maintenance. The department is also considering creating dedicated bus lanes on some roads. However, the various promotions to attract passengers face a challenge because of perceptions about public transport. "It needs a lot of behavioural change, a cultural change," said Mr Hameli, "to bring people to the level where public transport is a positive for their life."

Some residents said yesterday they would not leave their cars at home in favour of buses. Urooj Musheer, 28, would not take the bus because of a "social stigma" associated with it. "When you are sitting on the bus, people stare at you and there is a kind of social stigma to take a bus," the operations manager from Pakistan said. Muchlis Kaejo, 22, was concerned that running buses inside the city would crowd the streets and impede traffic.

"I think it's too bad if they have buses inside the city. I would rather take a taxi because it is faster." Marites Buiza, 33, from the Philippines, said she would take the bus if there were more stops. "The taxis are a bit pricey and, if they started running buses that went to more destinations in the city, I would definitely start using them instead." The transport department recently put out a tender for 500 additional buses. Mr Hameli said 100 new buses were due to enter service in the first quarter of next year with plans to increase city, suburban and intercity capacity 50 per cent by the end of next year.

New routes to other GCC states, such as Oman and Saudi Arabia, were also planned, he said. Abu Dhabi's plans to improve its bus service come as other emirates and GCC nations are putting European-style buses on their roads. Dubai, Sharjah and Ras al Khaimah have recently announced plans to add buses to their transportation networks, while Saudi Arabia and Qatar have issued tenders for new buses. * Additional reporting by Fatima al Shamsi and Hessa al Romaithi