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Public Transport in Abu Dhabi: DoT steps up its game [free access]

November 1, 2019

The Abu Dhabi Department of Transportation (DoT) has made rapid strides in launching key public transport policies and projects in the last two years. The department has deployed air-conditioned buses with access for passengers with disabilities. It has also introduced automated fare collection (AFC) system based on contactless smartcards. These initiatives have been taken to promote sustainable transport under the Abu Dhabi Transportation Mobility Management Strategy and the Surface Transport Master Plan (STMP).  


Basis for the key initiatives

The Abu Dhabi Transportation Mobility Management Strategy is the driving force behind the key initiatives. By 2030, it aims to:



Abu Dhabi has adopted the STMP, which incorporates a spectrum of low-carbon initiatives and sustainability measures, including:



Key initiatives

The Low Emission Vehicles Strategy of Abu Dhabi sets out a set of practical measures to support the trend towards the use of low-emission vehicles in the emirate. This plan outlines the strategies to increase the demand for low-emission vehicles, both electric and hybrid, as well as vehicles using natural gas, in line with the government’s vision, and contribute to the achievement of the goals of the UAE National Agenda 2021.


In a major step forward, the DoT deployed the Middle East’s first electric bus for passenger services in January 2019. The bus operates on a six-stop route between Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station, and Masdar City. The bus has been jointly developed by the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (also known as Masdar), Hafilat Industry LLC, and Europe-based Siemens. The bus has the capacity to carry 30 seated passengers and has a range of 150 km. 


More recently, in October 2019, the Abu Dhabi DoT deployed a fleet of 40 minibuses equipped with Euro-6 emission standard engines. The details about the supplier(s) have not been disclosed. The deployment of the minibuses is in line with the plans of the government of Abu Dhabi to overhaul the bus system in the city.


The DoT also awarded a contract to Sweden-based Volvo Buses and its UAE-based importer Famco Al Futtaim Auto & Machinery Company (Famco) to supply and maintain 168 intercity coaches in July 2019. It will be the first deployment of buses equipped with Euro-6 emission standard engines in Abu Dhabi. Each bus will be equipped with Euro-6 emission standard engine as well as intelligent transport systems (ITS). The delivery is expected to begin in the last quarter of 2019 and to be completed in the last quarter of 2020.


Earlier in the year, the DoT launched four new express bus routes and four regular bus routes to improve the quality of public transport services in the city. The express bus routes have half the number of stops as compared to the regular bus routes, reducing the end-to-end journey time by around 30 per cent. The X2 and X3 express bus routes will connect Al Khalidiya to Al Maqta, and the X4 and X5 bus routes will connect Al Zahiya to Al Maqta. The 74 bus route will connect Al Reem North to Al Rowdha, 71 will connect Al Reem North to Marina, 26 will connect Marina to Khalifa Park, and 20 will connect Marina to Al Rowdha.


Keeping its focus on the deployment of AFC systems, the DoT launched the Hafilat smart cards in Al Dhafra in January 2018 and in Al Ain in December 2017. Eight ticket vending machines, 11 banknote reloading machines, and six ticket office machines were installed across various locations in Al Dhafra to dispense and recharge the Hafilat smart cards for bus transport. In Al Ain, the DoT also deployed 11 ticket vending machines (TVMs), which enable users to issue and recharge tickets, ticket validators inside the buses, nine banknote reloaded machines (BR), and two ticket office machines (TOM) to sell tickets at the main bus stations. Annual and monthly subscriptions are also available.


The Hafilat smart cards store value in the T-Purse wallet and can be used for weekly or monthly subscriptions. With the new system, the fare is calculated automatically based on the travel distance, and real-time data is provided for planning, analysis, and service improvement. 


Abu Dhabi’s Integrated Transport Center (ITC), in cooperation with Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, launched a free Wi-Fi service project on public transport buses in September 2019. The project also has the capacity to offer internet services to devices capable of using 5G technologies. To activate Wi-Fi, passengers need to provide their phone number and email address, and then submit the one-time password (OTP). Currently, free Wi-Fi services are available on only 10 of the buses operating on Routes 43, 41, and A1.


Future plans

New metro system

The Abu Dhabi Metro project is a part of the Surface Transport Master Plan. The plan proposes the development of one metro line, two light rail lines, and one bus rapid transit (BRT) system which will collectively span 131 km.


The metro line will span 18 km (5 km underground) and cover 17 stations. The line will provide connections to the proposed Central Business District, Sowwah Island, Reem Island, Saadiyat Island, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi International Airport, Masdar, Capital City District, Emerald Gateway, Zayed Sports City, and ADNEC (Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company).


Fluor Mideast Limited - UAE is the Project Management Consultant (PMC). In November 2012, the consortium of AECOM Middle East - Abu Dhabi, DB Engineering and Consulting GMBH, and Parsons Brinckerhoff was awarded the contract to conduct a feasibility study and to provide design consultancy.


Passenger services are scheduled to begin in 2020. However, it is unlikely that this deadline will be met, as works are yet to commence. In fact, in July 2019, the DoT launched a tender for the construction of the line. The last date for the submission of bids could not be confirmed.


In July 2018, the DoT invited bids to provide pre-tender consultancy services for the metro as well as the light rail transit (LRT) system in the city. There are no further updates.


The development of the metro and light rail systems is together expected to cost USD7 billion. The average daily on the metrorail system is estimated to be 823,000 passengers by 2030.


New buses

In August 2019, ITC announced plans to purchase 327 buses at an investment of AED473 million to develop the public transport network. It plans to purchase and deploy 40 of these buses in Phase I.


These buses will expand the current bus network, increase the frequency of service, reduce traffic congestion, improve connectivity, and enhance ridership. The buses will be equipped with smart ticketing systems, route-tracking systems, CCTV cameras, and will be suitable for people with disabilities.


Expansion of Wi-Fi service

ITC plans to equip 520 buses, air-conditioned bus shelters, and stations with free Wi-Fi by March 2020.


Recent tenders

In August 2019, the DoT invited bids to conduct a study on and draft the Al Ain Region Surface Transport Master Plan and the Al Dhafra Region Surface Transport Master Plan. The scope of work includes project inception, analysis of problems, solutions and alternatives, preparation of the master plan, and budget plan and safeguarding.


In September 2019, the Abu Dhabi DoT and ITC invited bids to provide occupational health and safety (OHS), environmental management system (EMS), and energy management system (EnMS) consultancy services.



The DoT has really stepped up its efforts to improve public transport in the city in the past two years. In addition, the department is reviewing the Walkways and Bicycles Network project, which is part of the comprehensive walking and cycling plan. In the coming years, Abu Dhabi is expected to have a well-established and integrated public transit system. In addition, a 10-km-long hyperloop system between Abu Dhabi and Dubai is also expected to come up by end-2020, thereby improving connectivity between the two hubs in the UAE.


(1 AED [United Arab Emirates Dirham] = 0.27 USD)