Al Ain // The UAE's "garden city" is to get its own bus service to match the rapid development and growth in population expected in coming years. The Department of Transport is to launch four routes before Ramadan next month and another four before the end of the year, officials said yesterday.
Saeed al Hameli, general manager of the DoT's public bus services, said the buses would run between the outskirts and the town centre, linking key locations such as Tawam Hospital, Al Ain Airport, Hili Park and Bawadi Mall. "We think we will achieve a very good response on launching the service since Al Ain's structure of design is from the centre of the city and our services are running to cover east and west and north of Al Ain and link the major landmarks," Mr al Hameli said.
The service will be increased to 17 routes with a total of 350 buses by 2011, he said. "It will grow side-by-side with the development [of the city] and over the next few years we will be ahead of the development." Fares will range from Dh1 to Dh10, depending on the length of trip, Mr al Hameli said, with trips between the suburbs and the town centre costing a maximum of Dh5 and costs rising for longer journeys, such as to the eastern edge of the city and to the town of Sweihan.
The buses, painted white and orange, are manufactured by Mercedes and have low floors and automatic doors to make them accessible for pushchairs or wheelchairs. Buses will arrive every 30 minutes during peak hours this year, with the frequency increasing to 15 minutes in 2010 and to 10 minutes in 2011. The DoT has increased the frequency of buses between Al Ain and Abu Dhabi to one every 30 minutes by introducing 15 refurbished buses on the route last week, Mr al Hameli said. The wait between buses was more than two hours earlier.
In addition, three new long-distance routes will open next year, connecting Al Ain to Abu Dhabi International Airport, Dubai and Sharjah. Buses on these routes will have toilets, catering and entertainment. "With all the new development in Al Ain city, this was to avoid future challenges for transport. It is also to connect Al Ain city with Abu Dhabi and provide the same level of service as Abu Dhabi," Mr al Hameli said.
People waiting for inter-city buses will no longer have to cope with the heat after the department yesterday opened a temporary air-conditioned bus station. The tent structure is open from 6am to 11pm and has seating for 114 people, including 24 seats in a women only waiting area. A permanent station is to be built at the same location. At present there are buses making regional trips to places including Sweihan and Abu Dhabi city, Mr al Hameli said.
Anand Chaudry, an employee at the Al Ain branch of HSBC who commutes from Buraimi in Oman, said he tried to commute by bus when he first moved to Al Ain about seven months ago, but had given up because "the service was really, really poor". "If one bus is gone, you know it is another two hours. Sometimes the bus is cancelled and they do not tell you anything," he said. Mr Chaudry, who is from Mumbai, relied on taxis until he bought a car about a month ago.
"Al Ain definitely needs a new bus service - more than Abu Dhabi, in fact, because places are very far off," he said. "People used to wait for hours sometimes for the bus because they did not have any other option because they could not afford taxis." Mr al Hameli said a study had been conducted to estimate the demand for public buses but a further study would be required once the service started.
"We are working on the availability stage and further improvement will be taken based on service demand," he said. The city bus service in Abu Dhabi became instantly popular when it was launched with four routes more than a year ago. Taxi driver Mehmood Gul said he did not expect the new bus service would hurt business much. "There is a difference between the kind of people that get taxis and the kind that are willing to wait for the bus," he said.
"It has a lot to do with time. Al Ain is very big so it's not possible for the buses to go everywhere. Taxis will offer door-to-door service." Earlier this month, the Abu Dhabi taxi service operator TransAD announced plans to put another 1,400 taxis on Al Ain's roads by the end of the year. Al Ain's population is expected to grow by 21 per cent over the next five years alone, according to the Urban Planning Council, which envisages a three-fold increase in residents by 2030, from 374,000 at present.