In a bid to entice more people in Qatar to use public transportation, Mowasalat has been rapidly expanding its bus system over the past few months.
Last May, the state transportation company pledged to double its fleet from 120 to 250 vehicles by the end of the year, and increase the frequency of some of the most popular routes.
With the cost of living rising in Qatar and traffic congestion at an all-time high, taking the bus could help save you some money and stress. But you’ll need a lot of patience, too.
Here are some things to know about using public transport in Qatar:
It’s really cheap
If you have a smart card, fares around the Doha area will cost you QR3 to QR7 a trip, far cheaper than taking a taxi.
Smart cards can be bought at Mowasalat’s main bus station in Old Ghanim, as well as several small grocery stores. They can also be topped up at Ooredoo’s self-service machines. They cost QR30, QR20 of which can be applied to one’s fares.
If you don’t have a card and want to get on the bus, you usually need to pay a flat QR10 fee. See Mowasalat’s FAQS on the subject here.
It takes a lot longer than traveling by taxi
Affordability comes at a price. According to Andy Boggs, a former expat who used Qatar’s bus system for two years:
“You can get to your destination but it often involves transfers and waits at bus stops, both of which add a significant amount of time to your travels. Also, some of the routes require gassing up adding even more time as the bus waits its turn in the gas line to fill its very large tank.”
So if you’re planning to ride the bus to get to work or an appointment, you may want to “test” out your route to figure out how much time you’re going to need to allot for the trip.
Mistakes are inevitable
Here’s the current route map, according to Mowasalat’s website:
If that looks confusing to you, you’re not the only one.
According to Adarsh Vijayaraghavan, who used the bus system to go from Al Khor to Doha for a year, the buses themselves are quite comfortable, but navigating the system is all about trial and error:
“The buses are irregular. Information about buses are difficult to find. When I tried, the helpline numbers did not work. The buses were not as frequent as to meet the demand, and many a times buses were over-crowded.”
And Boggs recalled one experience in which he stood for 20 minutes at one stop and when the bus came, was told by the driver he should actually be at a stop a few blocks away.
“Another time at Lulu’s on D ring I boarded a bus thinking I was bound for the Central Bus Station, but as it turns out this particular bus makes an all day circular route of this area – teaching me that not all buses are going to the Central Bus Station as I had thought,” he said.
Not all bus stops are created equal
Mowasalat has been promising for years to make bus stops more comfortable for commuters who are standing in Qatar’s often searing sun.
But a lack of shaded stations continues to be an issue for many, particularly during the summer.
According to Boggs, that’s not the only issue.
“Some (stops) provide seating, maps, schedules and signs that show the time of the next arrival and other useful information. But other stops have nothing more than a small sign on a lamp pole and involve long waits in the heat, leaving you with a feeling of uncertainty about whether you are in the right place.”
As always, scoping out your options ahead of the time you actually are going to be relying on the bus to get you somewhere is the best way to avoid frustration – and sunburn.
There’s a dedicated bus route in the Industrial Area
Late last year, Mowasalat rolled out a complimentary hop-on, hop-off bus service that caters to the blue-collar population in the Industrial area.
The service operates from 4am to midnight and makes mandatory stops at the central bus station, malls in the Industrial area and at big mosques during Friday prayers.
Commuters and residents with vehicles can park their cars at two designated hubs – one at the intersection of Salwa Road and Industrial Area (Street 1), and another at the intersection of the Abu Hamour Road and Industrial Area (Street 52) – before boarding a shuttle.
More information about the service can be found here.
You can explore outside of Doha
Last month, the company introduced new routes from the main bus station in Al Ghanim to Al Ruwais/Al Shamal, Al Thakhira, Dukhan, Mesaieed Industrial City, Abu Samra, Umm Garn Village, Al Kheesa and Al Khor.
It also added routes from Hamad International Airport to West Bay via the Corniche/City Center mall, and from Asian Town to Al Shahaniya.
The buses that travel to these places have added amenities to make the longer journeys more comfortable, including better seating and separate luggage facilities, Mowasalat said in a statement.
Do you rely on the bus system in Qatar? What advice do you have to offer to newbies? Thoughts?