In Abu Dhabi, Arup is working with the Integrated Transport Centre (ITC) to develop a bus masterplan to support growth, improve access, and contribute to decarbonisation.

Creating a masterplan

The ITC is the body that oversees public transport in the Emirate, and 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 increase connectivity in Abu Dhabi in the coming years, but the bus network remains key to 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.

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 master planning elsewhere in the UAE, and on bus planning projects in the UK, we have seen the difference a strong bus network can make to people in cities, towns and rural areas.

There is no single aspect of a bus network that determines its popularity. Routes, frequency, comfort, and speed are all important factors, as 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.

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 essential 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 interchanges also have the 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.


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 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 bringing 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 that transformation offers. 

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