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11 June 2023

Bus ride in Dubai with empty Nol card: What are your options?

By Majorie van Leijen

Imagine the scenario; you are on your way to that important interview, first day of work or meet up with friends. You hastily arrive at the bus stop just in time to catch the approaching bus. But as you step inside, the rejecting sound of the Nol card reader reminds you that the card is empty, and there is no vending machine nearby to do the top-up.

Although the scenario could be avoided, it happens all too often to the uninformed commuter. Throughout the emirate, there are 64 bus stations with purchase and top-up facilities. However, with more than 1,600 bus stops, many are lacking the facilities.

During the 45th Customers Council Session at Dubai Mall last month, the topic was raised by one of the participating customers. Why not provide onboard Nol card machines.

“These machines are provided in some bus stations and a study is currently underway to generalize them to the rest of stations,” answered Ahmed Bahrozyan, CEO of RTA Licensing Agency cum Chairperson of Customers Council.

It has previously been suggested that the machine would generate onboard bus tickets. The fare of the trip would be calculated in response to the details provided by the passengers, and the ticket could be paid in cash.

Although these are concepts yet under study, it would be a welcome move to the public. Currently, embarking a public bus in Dubai requires a loaded Nol card. This is often learnt the hard way by commuters not familiar with the payment system or facilities on the selected route.

“When I just came to Dubai, I did not know about the Nol card options available. I lived in Karama, and there was no top-up machine at my bus stop. It happened several times that I missed the bus because I realised too late that my card was empty,” said Elizabeth Taylor, a British resident.

The RTA has already announced the addition of 620 new vending machines throughout the emirate. “About 620 machines have been installed at bus stations across Dubai and inside the air-conditioned bus shelters. The bus department has mapped out… plans to improve customer satisfaction… in keeping with RTA’s 3rd Strategic Goal: Customers First,” said Mansour Al Jasmi, Head of Bus Stations Improvement Team at the Bus Department of RTA.

Further, the Nol card can be charged online, an initiative for which the RTA was recently awarded.

Louloua Yousif Al Asmakh, Deputy Director and Clearing and Settlement Manager at the Unified Automated Fare Collection Department at RTA explained: “There are 6 million active Nol card users. Imagine that all these users would charge their Nol card at the station vending machines. This would create a huge congestion.

“The Nol card can be charged online by using the Nol card code, which makes it a more personalised card,” she explained. However, one needs to bear in mind that the top up does not immediately take effect. In fact, a 48-hour period should be taken into account. So, a quick top-up before running off to that bus you must catch is not an option.

The Nol card options

Trip fare calculation for any trip in Dubai is based on zones, of which there are seven in the emirate. The silver Nol card, which is used by 95 per cent of all commuters, charges Dh2,30 when crossing one zone, Dh4,10 for two zones, and Dh5,80 for crossing anything beyond the three zones. A Gold card deducts double the amount for each zone.

Explaining the Nol card, Louloua elaborates that there are four different Nol cards. While the Silver and Gold card are for regular travel, the Red card can be used for a single trip or as day card, while the Blue card is a customised card.

“The Blue Nol card is a personalized Nol card, which has a picture of the user and balance protection. When the card gets lost, the user can report the loss after which we will block the card. The remaining balance will be refunded to the card owner.”

The Blue card has many advantages which are less familiar to the common public. For example, as a Blue card user you can have a monthly pass; which allows you to make an unlimited number of trips for a standard charge, she explains.

Monthly packages are available for specified travel zones as well. For example, if you travel the same route in the same zone every day, you can have a monthly pass within that zone. Any trip made outside that zone would be charged extra.

For travel within all zones, a monthly pass would cost Dh270. If a commuter would travel up to the maximum charge, which is Dh14, for 30 days he would be charged Dh420. Monthly passes can be purchased for one zone or two zones too.

Although it is not clear whether the onboard bus fare facility will materialise this year, the department will come up with new gadgets. Nol card payment in taxis is currently being rolled out, and a Nol card smart phone application is in the making, and will be introduced this year, revealed Louloua.