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MENAFN - Khaleej Times - 13/10/2012

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The very popular Abu Dhabi Bus stand. — KT photo by Shoaib Anwer
(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) For some regular passengers, the Department of Transport (DoT) has taken exactly the right step in raising the city bus fares from Dh1 to Dh2, a change that will take effect on November 1. Without any awareness of the DoT's rationale, commuter Alfred echoes the officials' desired outcome in doubling the price.

"Right now, it's Dh1 and that's why all these people are taking the bus every time; it is too crowded inside," says Alfred, who rides the bus at least twice a day to and from work. "For me, the (higher) price is okay for the convenience, for less hassle on the bus."

While announcing the new public bus fare structure last Tuesday, General Manager of DoT's Bus Office, Saeed Mohammed Fadel Al Hameli, stressed that changes were meant to improve the user experience, reducing congestion within the buses and wait times for passengers avoiding crowded vehicles. The decisions were made in response to feedback from customers, he said.

A DoT bus supervisor stationed at a high-traffic mall stop argues that the move cannot be cost-driven, as 'thousands' travel without paying the existing fee. He says that some passengers get out of paying by claiming they don't have change, using expired passes or simply giving the drivers a hard time.

"With this kind of situation, they have to implement something," he says. "People are asking for these changes, for more discipline in the bus. Maybe this will be a big step towards controlling the passengers."

A bus driver standing nearby chimes in: "But the poor people always pay." He predicts the low-income passengers will be the most affected by the higher fares, and the expectation is confirmed by many such customers.

Hassan, who has already boarded four buses by 11 am on a working day, pays his own transportation costs as he shuttles between different outlets of the store that employs him. "If I had more money I would be taking a taxi, but I have to make do," he says, waiting at a bus stop. "Right now I can get by paying Dh1. When the price increases, I'll have to think before taking the bus."

The DoT's overhaul of bus fares also affects regional and inter-city bus services, which will change from fixed rates (Dh3 and Dh10 respectively) to a set boarding fare plus distance-based charges. For regional services, this amounts to Dh2 (boarding fee) plus 5 fils per kilometre traveled; for inter-city buses, Dh10 (boarding fee) plus 10 fils per kilometre traveled.

Customers traveling the 'X90' route between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain were uniformly dismayed to hear of the change, especially as the new 'express' (ie non-stop) service introduced last August was already priced at Dh15, higher than the standard inter-city fee of Dh10. According to the new fee structure, the express service to Al Ain will cost around Dh25.

"From Dh15 to Dh25 is too much," says Kamal, who lives in Al Ain and frequently travels to Abu Dhabi by bus. "The increase should be 20 per cent or something like that."

Abu Nasir, a daily passenger aboard the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain bus, says that even the price hike from Dh10 to Dh15 has been a financial strain. "It was better when it was Dh10," he recalls. "Then they made it Dh15 and this was difficult. My family is all back home in Bangladesh, and I have to take it from the money I send them." He says he knows many people in a similar position who will be distressed by the change.

Anticipating these concerns, the DoT has decided to maintain a Dh10 service between the two cities. However, passengers aboard this bus will spend two hours longer than those on the express route due to additional stops along the way.

Current fares are already prohibitively expensive for some people, say bus driver Janal, who collects fares directly from his passengers on the X90 route. "Every day I see customers go back because they don't like to pay the Dh15," he reveals.

In the bustle around a X90 bus stalling at Abu Dhabi Bus Station, private drivers hope to poach some Al Ain-bound passengers for the price of Dh20. They are pleased to hear that fares are increasing next month. It could be good for business, they say.


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