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Mowasalat bus

Khalid Albaih/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

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.

Mowasalat smart card

Mowasalat

Mowasalat smart card

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.”

Mowasalat Old Ghanim bus station

Chantelle D'mello

Mowasalat Old Ghanim bus station

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.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Shenghung Lin/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

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.

Mowasalat Industrial Area Shuttle Bus

Mowasalat

Mowasalat Industrial Area Shuttle Bus

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?

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Richard Messenger / Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Buses transporting construction workers as they travel to and from their work sites this summer should become slightly more comfortable next month after authorities mandate new rules for larger passenger vehicles.

Starting July 1, all buses and vans must have air conditioning in order to pass the mechanical inspection required to renew a vehicle’s registration, the Ministry of Interior said this morning on Facebook.

Lights and reflective tape are among the new requirements for buses in Qatar.

Ministry of Interior / Facebook

Lights and reflective tape are among the new requirements for buses in Qatar.

The new rules apply to all vehicles carrying 11 or more passengers.

Other new requirements for buses and vans include having tinted or insulated windows, reflective stickers on the back bumper and – in the case of large buses carrying 50 or more people – blinking lights at the rear of the roof.

Another new safety measure mandates that the bottom of a vehicle cannot be more than 55cm above the ground unless a protective safety bar is installed.

These so-called under-run protection devices are designed to prevent pedestrians and cyclists from falling underneath a large vehicle and being crushed by its wheels, and have been previously been highlighted in Qatar’s National Road Safety Strategy as an important safety feature lacking on older trucks and buses.

The new measures will largely benefit Qatar’s low-income workers, who typically cannot afford to own their own vehicles and are transported from their accommodation to their jobs on buses supplied by their employers.

It’s common to see buses filled with men in blue construction coveralls trying to catch a breeze through an open window even on Qatar’s hottest days, suggesting that many of the buses lack air conditioning.

Changing standards

The new vehicle requirements come as Qatar is making incremental changes to improve the living and working conditions of the country’s blue-collar workforce.

Reforms proposed more than a year ago to Qatar’s controversial kafala sponsorship system – which many human rights activists argue enables unscrupulous employers to abuse expats – are still being studied by politicians. But some smaller improvements have been introduced.

New MOLSA kiosk.

ADLSA

New MOLSA kiosk.

These include the rollout of multilingual electronic kiosks that allow expats to lodge complaints with labor ministry officials and forcing employers to pay workers electronically to enable better tracking of late or non-payment of wages, although this requirement has yet to take effect.

The number of labor inspectors has also been increased from 150 in late 2013 to roughly 300, although human rights activists say that’s still an inadequate amount of people to properly monitor Qatar’s massive construction industry.

Government officials have also been keen to showcase new, model labor camps, some of which were recently shown to a group of foreign journalists.

Growing workforce

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Chantelle D'mello

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

But the continuous influx of blue-collar expats to Qatar to work on countless construction projects ahead of the 2022 World Cup has been a severe strain on the availability of labor camps.

Similarly, questions remain over whether companies would be able to comply with the Ministry of Interior’s new rules for buses.

Several mechanics who spoke to Doha News this morning noted that replacing or retrofitting Qatar’s entire fleet of older buses that currently lack air conditioning would be a massive undertaking.

 

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Penny Yi Wang / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

While all of Qatar’s residents typically welcome a cooler air conditioned environment after being outside, Nepal’s labor minister actually argued that it contributes to deaths in Qatar’s construction industry.

Tek Bahadur Gurung said the high number of heart attacks in otherwise healthy young Nepali men was a problem of “orientation” and that some men died after suddenly turning on the air conditioning in their accommodation, according to Channel 4 News.

While health experts say that suddenly going from a hot environment to a cold building can aggravate some medical conditions, the US Department of Labor recommends that those working in hot conditions take frequent breaks in air conditioned or shaded areas.

Thoughts?

Correction: A previous version of this story contained erroneous information about the fleet of a vehicle leasing company.

Air-conditioned buses used as passenger shelter after Al Ghanim accident