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Dubai to get 400 AC bus shelters this year

Path of Route (F46), which links Ibn Battuta Metro Station with Jebel Ali area, will be extended to the Dubai Investment Park (2). (Supplied)

By Majorie van Leijen

International City, Jumeirah Village, Dubai Investment Park and Dubai Design District will be added to the bus network of the emirate this year. Further, 400 bus shelters, 400 ticket machines and 150 new bus drivers will be added, and the Mall of the Emirates bus station will be refurbished.

‘Emirates24|7’ spoke to Youssef Al Ali, CEO of Public Transport Agency, about the development of bus transportation, in the year completed and the year to come.

When the conventional transportation mode was first introduced in Dubai in 1964, there were four buses doing rounds to serve the most visited areas of the emirate. Today the fleet counts 1,569 buses serving 107 bus routes, which is constantly expanded, explained Ali.

Although Dubai Metro, Dubai Tram and several sea vessels have been added to the public transportation network, buses still form an essential part of this network with new communities often being the focus of expansion plan.

In 2014, the south side of the emirate including Jebel Ali and Jafza became the focus of new bus routes and coverage. International City, Jumeirah Village, Dubai Investment Park and Dubai Design District will be the areas of concern in the year to come, revealed the director.

With the addition of these connections, ridership numbers are continuously on the rise. “While  121 million riders were recorded in 2013, the number of riders counted until last November was 123.5 million, and the average bus occupancy per day equaled 330,000, a 12 per cent increase compared to the previous year.

“This is a result of both the economic development and the natured growth of the city, elaborated Ali. However, there is more to the successful management of bus occupancy.

“Among the key factors triggering the rise in the bus seat occupancy in Dubai is the obvious improvement in the accuracy of bus schedules as on-time arrivals encourage additional numbers of the public to use public buses in travelling to various destinations across the emirate,” explained Essa Al Hashemi, Director of Planning and Business Development, at RTA earlier.

The continuous monitoring of the performance of public bus routes to identify the low occupancy routes, developing appropriate corrective measures for each route, studying new demand areas, and analyzing the possibility of increasing bus seats on high demand routes are among the measures taken by RTA.

The Automated Vehicle Management (AVM) system, covering buses operating on internal routes as well as routes linking to other emirates plays a big part in transforming scheduled trips into realistic timing on the ground that meets bus users’ requirements, explained Al Ali.

“Key statistics of the system show a rise in bus compliance with the scheduled timings from 17 per cent to 70 per cent, rendering Dubai one of the world’s best cities in bus punctuality rates.

“Equally, the number of cancelled journeys has plummeted from 13 per cent to 0.8 per cent; resulting in an improved customer satisfaction rating from 69 per cent to 80 per cent. This has also resulted in reducing the number of kilometers travelled by four million km per month, which has translated into savings on operational costs by as much as 5 per cent per annum and a drop in the amount of environmental pollution in the Dubai emirate. The System contributed to cutting bus crashes by 10 per cent,” elaborated Ali.

The year to come

Looking back at a positive year, with successes such as Skybus and the Wojhati website and application, the RTA is ready to embrace 2015 with more promising developments.

One of the major projects it is currently undertaking is the coverage of all bus stations and bus stops in Dubai with air-conditioned shelters. At the moment there are 1200 unsheltered stations and stops, which will be covered in three stages.

“The design of the first 400 shelters has been completed, and construction work of these shelters is expected to start in the second half for the year of 2015. The first 400 shelters are planned to be completed by the end of this year, while all 1200 are expected to be built by 2017,” said Al Ali.

Further, a major expansion of the number of Ticket and Vending Machines (TVM’s) is in the planning for 2015, the director revealed. More ticket machines at bus stations and bus stops have long been on demand, as passengers are unable to top up their Nol cards in the bus. A stop without a ticket machine means that that the passenger will have to be prepared, or miss the bus.

“Five additional TVM’s were installed in 2014, and another 400 will be installed in 2015. These TVM’s will be placed at heavily used stops covering most of the emirate,” said Al Ali. Whether there are any plans to install similar techniques onboard the buses, he left for the future.

A longer term plan includes the refurbishment of 16 stations in Dubai, of which some have already seen the start of improvement works. “In 2014 we commenced work on Burj Khalifa-Dubai Mall station, Abu Hail station, Etisalat station and Rshidiya Station. This year the bus station at the Mall of the Emirates will be refurbished.”

Other stations included in the project Al Qusais station (2016), Sabkha station, Deira City Center station, Jebel Al I Station and Union station (2017), Gold Souk station and Ibn Batuta station (2018) and Al Karama station, Al Satwa station, Al Quoz station and Al Ghubaiba station (2019).

The year of 2015 is also the year of new employment opportunities, as the RTA is planning to hire 150 new bus drivers. In addition, a couple of unique buses will be added to the fleet.

The unique bus fleet

In the first quarter of 2015, one bus will be dedicated to the transformation into the Mobile Library, a driving library that will be routed to many areas to provide education and awareness and dissemination of knowledge to the public free of charge, said Al Ali.

The bus will be transformed inside as well as outside to resemble a real library, and move to metro stations, bus stations and other locations depending on the event.

Another unique feature of the bus fleet this year will be the introduction of two electrical buses as a pilot project to investigate the potential of these inventions.

“The two buses will hit the streets beginning this year and do rounds in the Dubai Mall area, where suitable routs will be selected according to bus specifications and the bus seat number,” explained Al Ali.

The bus will be powered only by electricity supplied by rechargeable batteries, which can be recharged up to 80% in less than 30 minutes. The bus can cover up to 150 km with a full battery at a speed of 100 km per hour, said the RTA.

“Whether the electrical bus proves to be suitable as a transportation mode will have to be seen after the trial period of the pilot project. There are some challenges facing the electrical bus.

“The price of the electrical bus is much higher than the diesel fuel bus. The distance run by one fully charged electrical bus is almost 150 km, while the distance run by one full diesel tank is almost three times this distance. In addition, it will prove a challenge to comply with the high requirements of luxury for our fleet and increasing customer satisfaction about our services,” said Al Ali.

Further, a network infrastructure of electrical supply stations to provide the electrical buses with the required amount of electrical charge is a development that remains detrimental to the success of the electrical vehicle.

More direct potential is for the environmental-friendly bus, which is already doing rounds in the emirate.  The new buses are equipped with proper devices to enhance the reduction of CO2 emission, explained Al Ali.

“Environmental-friendly buses have high energy efficiency and less CO2 emissions, reducing the carbon footprint of each vehicle. Therefore, our new buses consume less energy while performing with a higher efficiency.”

Although it is currently in the experiment stage where different techniques will be tried and tested, the RTA eyes to replace the entire fleet with the environmental alternative eventually.

“There is a long term decommissioning plan for replacing the current fleet until 2020, and we are preparing this target from 2015 to 2018,” elaborated Al Ali.