Buses on the highway in Abu Dhabi; Buses on the highway in Abu Dhabi;

Bus masterplan for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi

How can buses enable growth and cut carbon in Abu Dhabi?

In Abu Dhabi, Arup is working with the Integrated Transport Centre (ITC) – the body that oversees public transport in the Emirate – to develop a bus masterplan that will support growth, improve access, and contribute to decarbonisation.

With the rapid population and economic growth of the last decade expected to continue, Abu Dhabi needs its transport system to enable everyone to access jobs and opportunities. Although many people across the Emirate rely heavily on private vehicles, bus patronage is increasing steadily. By investing in a high-quality bus network fuelled by clean energy, Abu Dhabi is enabling more residents and visitors to use public transport for work and for leisure – enhancing communities and improving liveability. 

A new light rail network and Etihad Rail are both planned to connect Abu Dhabi in the coming years. But the bus network remains key in establishing an inclusive, sustainable and affordable transport system. Our transport planners are collaborating with the ITC and key stakeholders to devise a masterplan through to 2040 to realise this ambition.

Project Summary

3,000 bus stops across the Emirate

1.2 millionweekly bus trips

136 bus routes

A shaded commuters bus stop in Abu Dhabi A shaded commuters bus stop in Abu Dhabi
A shaded commuters bus stop in Abu Dhabi

Bus networks can adapt quickly to change

Buses do not usually grab headlines in the same way as high-speed rail lines or new tram systems, but they are vital to local communities. Bus networks can be adapted relatively quickly, easily and cheaply when a transport system needs to respond to change. In our work on strategic transport masterplanning elsewhere in the UAE, and on bus planning projects in the UK, we have seen the difference a strong bus network makes to cities, towns and rural areas.

There is no single aspect of a bus network that determines whether it is well used. Routes, frequency, comfort, and speed are all important. So are pricing, streamlined ticketing, and good quality stops and interchanges. Passengers want reliability, comfort and safety when they are waiting for their bus and travelling. And they want travel to be easily accessible for people of all ages and abilities.

A bus stop with multiple journey routes in Abu Dhabi.

Optimising routes and journey times

Our comprehensive strategic bus masterplan for Abu Dhabi brings all these elements together. To do this, we are drawing on our firm’s experience of best practice around the world. For key corridors and arterial routes across the Emirate, the masterplan includes high-frequency, high-capacity services and bus priority measures to promote fast and reliable journey times.

Working with demand data and modelling supplied by the ITC, we have suggested changes to routes and optimum interchange locations. These are targeted to improve access to rapidly growing areas while keeping journey times short for popular routes.

Taking local conditions into account

Some factors are unique to the geography and culture of Abu Dhabi. With our local team based in the Emirate, we recognised immediately that passengers do not want to stand in the hot sun at a bus stop or cross a wide highway to reach their stop. Working closely with key stakeholders, we explored enhancements to the public realm at bus stops, including seating and shade as standard, and improved walkways to stops that will enhance passengers’ journeys.

When it comes to encouraging more people to choose the bus over cars, having to change buses can be a barrier. Improved interchanges, enhanced real-time information, shorter journey times, an expanded network, and new on-bus payment systems will all be considered. Good-quality waiting facilities and straightforward walking routes around the interchange also have potential to make bus travel easier and more convenient.

New Automated Rapid Transit (ART) vehicles are already providing an enhanced user experience on the streets of Abu Dhabi, in addition to the strong performing and accessible buses already operating across the network. Future green, clean and efficient bus vehicles will also be factored into the masterplan.

An unshaded bus stop in Abu Dhabi An unshaded bus stop in Abu Dhabi
An unshaded bus stop in Abu Dhabi.

Two-way stakeholder communication

Throughout the project, clear, open and honest communication with the client and stakeholders has ensured that the masterplan remains true to the ITC’s objectives and represents value for money. Throughout the project, we will be holding workshops to ensure that all the different government bodies and stakeholder organisations are involved in shaping a world-leading bus network. This is helping us to build a wide base of support for bus transformation and secure buy-in from stakeholders. We have agreed on a set of goals and are tracking our progress against these.

Our use of digital tools, such as the Podaris collaboration platform, is enabling us to bring the masterplan to life – showing how the network operates now and how it could look after implementation. Communicating data-heavy analysis visually has stimulated discussion, improved the feedback process and given decision-makers a clear indication of the challenges and opportunities this transformation offers. 

The masterplan phase is due to be completed during 2024, and residents will be able to benefit from the changes to the bus network for decades to come.