Staff writer Ferdinand Godinez puts the city’s bus system to the test
Unless you have your own car, getting around Abu Dhabi can be done in two ways: by taxi or by bus.
The recent increase in taxi flagdown rate to five dirhams has made many rethink their daily commutes.
In comparison, with rates starting at just two dirhams, riding the bus is becoming an increasingly popular mode of transport.
To gain a clearer picture of the pros and cons of taking a bus, I recharged my Hafilat card (more on that on the right) and hopped on board to try out some popular routes.
Route 56: Mina Souk – Khalifa Park
On a weekday, people are packing into the bus from as early 6am. I hop on mid-route at the Central Bus Station next to Al Wahda Mall – not the ideal starting point at this time of day as the bus is packed.
The route takes you along Mina Street, Zayed the First Street, past the central bus station and up Sultan Bin Zayed Street (Muroor Road) towards Khalifa Park.
Pros: The long stretch pretty much gives you a comprehensive tour of the city.
Cons: Expect a huge crowd of passengers, even first thing in the morning.
Travel time: 50 mins from Central Bus Station to Khalifa Park
Route 52: Sowwah Square – Zayed Sports City
This route can be a bit unpredictable in terms of commuter crowd, though my early afternoon trip to Mushrif Mall from Al Wahda turns out to be surprisingly calm.
Routing through Al Zahiyah and down Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street (Airport Road), stops include the city air terminal, Zayed the First Street, the main bus station, Mushrif Mall and Zayed Sports City.
Pros: Pretty convenient for getting one from end of the city to the other.
Cons: Not many, but it can get busy at times.
Travel time: 40 mins from Hazza Bin Zayed to Mushrif Mall
Route 190: Al Rawdah St – Yas Island East Mosque
For all of Yas Island’s splendour, getting a cab there can be brutal on the wallet.
The 190 bus is moderately full around 6.30pm. I hop on at the Al Nahyan stop, but it doesn’t take long before the bulk of the passengers started dispersing.
With a total of nine stops, the route passes by the Immigration Department in Al Mushrif, the main bus station next to Al Wahda Mall, and major stops on Yas Island including Yas Mall, Ikea and the main entrance to Yas Marina Circuit.
Pros: Big savings compared to a taxi, which could set you back up to AED 50, but a slightly longer trip.
Cons: There’s no bus shelter at Al Nahyan stop, a challenge in this summer heat.
Travel time: 60 mins from main bus station to Yas Mall.
Before you go
The Hafilat card is a prepaid card used to facilitate payment for bus trips within the city and suburbs.
There are six types of card: temporary for five dirhams, valid for 14 days; permanent for ten dirhams, valid for five years; and personalised (which features your name and photo), special needs, senior citizen (60+) and student – all for five dirhams and valid for five years.
The prices are just for the card, so you’ll need to recharge before using them. Cards can be purchased and recharged at the Central Bus Station near Al Wahda Mall, Department of Transport (DoT) customer care centres, ticket vending machines in the airport and reloading machines located in select bus shelters, hospitals and malls.
When riding the bus, you simply tap your card on the scanning device as you enter and exit the bus. The fare is automatically deducted from the card’s stored value based on the distance of the journey.
The bus fare within the city is two dirhams, while fares to the suburbs start at two dirhams and cost an extra five fils for each kilometre. The intercity fare is ten dirhams, plus ten fils per kilometre.
You can choose to load cards with weekly passes costing AED 30 and valid for unlimited travel for seven days. Permanent and personalised cards can be recharged up to AED 150 (minimum five dirhams), or a fixed weekly value of AED 30 or AED 80 a month.
Special needs and senior citizen cardholders are entitled to a free pass, while students can enjoy unlimited travel in the city and suburbs for AED 500 a year. These cards can also be applied for at the main bus station and DoT customer care centres, but you must bring a valid Emirates ID for verification.
Bus operating times vary but generally start around 5am and run until midnight. I found them to mostly run on time, although during rush hour they may run a few minutes behind schedule, at most.
To help plan your journey, download the Darb app, available for Android and Apple devices, which provides interactive maps, routes, real-time schedules and locations of the buses.
To find out more, visit: dot.abudhabi.ae