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Abu Dhabi - Primer on Public-Transit System

Abu Dhabi - Primer on Public-Transit System

Abu Dhabi is the capital city of UAE and hence has a huge need for infrastructure to support the city's ever-growing population. While on one hand, the government is promoting Abu Dhabi as the cultural capital of the region, on the other, there is an explicit focus on developing it into a world-class center for business.  With a growing number of companies that are finding a home in the city, the expat population is on the rise too. Development and growth have led to the city in dire need of infrastructure. While the story of Abu Dhabi is not too old and it has only recently become one of the urban centers of the world, the infrastructure and construction have come up pretty quickly. So, has the public transportation tried to cope with the demand?

The question is how does a tourist in this culture center travel across?  We've tried to offer you a primer on the options you have!

If you have read our other posts, you already know that we are the kind of travelers who seek pleasure in living a cities' life and hence opt to travel using mode of mass transportation to the extent possible. While Taxis are obviously the convenient transportation, it is prudent to look for other options which save money and time and also provide an opportunity to have a glimpse of the city - closer and concrete. While the sister city, Dubai, has quite a few mass transport medium, Abu Dhabi is definitely behind it in terms of coping up with that requirement. 

Let's see what are the options available in Abu Dhabi.

The foundation of the city's transportation system is Taxis

Taxis are backbone for public transport
Taxis form the backbone of public transport
As world over, Taxis are obviously an important mode of travel across Abu Dhabi. Taxis in UAE are relatively economical and managed to a large extent. There are 5 or 6 specific taxi operators all of whom operate a similar set of vehicles under various categories. The most common car is the Toyota Camry - a sedan which is decently comfortable and spacious. The fleet of each operator is centrally managed and run pretty smoothly. You can hail a cab or call in a specific number to request a dispatch. There is an app too to request a cab. All cabs have a CCTV camera which is centrally monitored and this apparently keeps the drivers in check. All taxis have a receipt printer and you can ask for one but the mode of payment is mostly cash.

Taxi drivers are aware of major landmarks but may not be very proficient with the names of the streets so know your destination before you embark. If you are more than 3-4 or need a bigger cab, it would be difficult to hail one but you can always call the call-center to request for a bigger cab which can handle up to 7 passengers - generally a Toyota Innova. Recently a special service for women has been started which has women drivers and only families with women can board these cabs.

There is a Bus Service which covers most of the city but patience is the key!

It was only in 2008 that the city decided to start a bus service to provide a mass transit system in the city. The mode quickly caught people's fancy, especially the daily travelers or long-term tourists. The government is trying it's best to expand the network and catch up to the demands of rapid urbanization and population growth. The routes to the most extent are pretty resolved and you can travel from most corners to your destination with a single change of bus - if not without it.

city bus is most economical way to travel
City bus is the most economical way to travel 
Buses are comfortable and move on time - they stop at designated stations and journeys are manageable. Most routes have a frequency of about half an hour. As one would expect they would obviously take more time than a taxi. The bus system within Abu Dhabi City is completely cash-less and the fares are paid through a pre-paid Hafilat Card.
The department of transport does provide the bus routes and other details on their website at - Bus Transportation in Abu Dhabi
We would talk about the Hafilat Card and other tools to ease your journey woes in Abu Dhabi, later in the article.

Careem - Latest in the City

Mobile application based cab hailing services are making a mark all over the world and Ubers have made the local travel an ease across various cities. Booking a cab right from the comfort of your room and then boarding a luxury cab to zip across the city is definitely a convenient way to travel. Abu Dhabi has recently allowed such services - but there is only one service provider for now - Careem. The rates are relatively higher owing to a government mandate to have the fares at least 30 percent higher than local taxis. These companies compensate for it by providing plush cars - a Lexus is the most common vehicle that would stop at your doorstep.

What more should you know about if you are traveling within the city on public transport? There are a few tools you should be equipped with before you venture out.....

DARB - Abu Dhabi's Response to Google Maps

DARB - Abu Dhabi's Google Maps
Abu Dhabi's own Google Maps - User Interface

The Department of Transportation in Abu Dhabi has been futuristic at least in the use of technology and they have incorporated advanced systems to ease the life of commuters. One such initiative is the launch of a mobile application called - DARB. This application is one stop solution for all the travel related information pertaining to public transport. The GPS enabled application picks up your location and guides you to your destination (to be input by the user)- no matter what the medium you choose.  You have an option to choose between a self-drive, taxi or bus as your transit medium. For the self-drive option, it would show (and provide voice guidance along) the best route and approximate fuel mileage for the journey. The taxi option would show you an estimate of the taxi fare and the journey time. What we loved was the bus feature which would provide you with various combinations of routes to your destination along with the estimated time of arrival at the destination. Once you choose your combination, it would also guide you to the nearest bus-stop relevant for your chosen journey and then prompt you for the bus numbers to hop on to. The application works throughout the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and is definitely the first app you should have on your phone if you are in the region.

The Hafilat Card - No Boarding of a Bus without this

Another area of integration of technology with the transport system is the use of cashless fare collection system in the city. Within the city limits, all bus fares are to be paid using a prepaid card called Hafilat. This credit-card sized card is available in various formats depending on the length of your stays and status within the country - and is available at big malls and the central bus station. We would recommend to sneak a trip to the Wahda Main Bus Terminal and pick the card from the big dispensing machine within the passenger area. The menu is self-explanatory and you should not have much problem in choosing one. The card costs 5 AEDs and you may want to load it with some money to start with. We took the silver visitors Hafilat Card and started with 20 AEDs to check how the card works. The card can be reloaded with money at many bus stations (which is different from bus stops) where there is a sheltered waiting area. The machine easily loads the card using cash and are available in plenty.

Hafilat Card Recharge Machine
It is easy to recharge your hafilat card at any of these machines

Taxi Service Application

If you intend to use taxis extensively during your visit, which you most probably would end us doing, there is a nice mobile application - Abu Dhabi Taxi - which eases your job of booking a taxi. It picks your location using GPS and directs the nearest cab to your location. It also provides the details of the driver and the contact number along with the estimated time of arrival. It would also show you the live location of the cab. However, be aware of the fact that there is a 4 AED fee for booking a cab using the app as compared to hailing one on side of the road.

What if you want to travel out of the city? There is a regional bus service network that you could leverage!

There is a regional bus network for those who intend to travel across cities using the public transport system. The buses run out of the Main Bus Terminal behind the Wahda Mall and most routes have a frequency of half an hour. The buses are color coded based on the destination and accept Hafilat Card and Cash for most journeys. The inter-city buses are luxury ones with reclining chair and ample head/leg space for a decently comfortable journey. They run mostly on time and are the best way to travel economically - of course, it comes at a cost of time but if you have some margin saves a lot. We would recommend to use one if you in Abu Dhabi for a good duration and take a day trip to Al Ain or Sharjah (both take about 2 and a half hour one way) or a weekend trip to Dubai.

What's the best option for a tourist? 

We would say the best option is to take an Hafilat Card if you in the city for more than a week. For most of the quick trips use a taxi but for longer distances or daily sneak to the beach, you could board a bus.

If you have any questions regarding how to travel in Abu Dhabi or would like any other help, feel free to comment below. Reach out to us at ShoutOut@TrippingTourists.com

Big Bus Tourist Bus
You may want to try the touristy Big Bus too!

Know More about other things to do in Abu Dhabi

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