While Abu Dhabi is not as sprawling as, say, Dubai, at least six months out of the year it’s just too hot to walk. In July and August, even at night temperatures can hit a sticky 35 degrees. Aside from that, many of the pavements are badly maintained and uneven. In the cooler months, it’s certainly possible to walk short distances. However, be sure to pay close attention to road safety – drivers tend to speed, rarely indicate and often run red lights.
While the glitzy videos of the city’s 2030 vision include space-age underground metro trains, for now rail transport in Abu Dhabi is non-existent. Luckily though, the bus system – introduced in 2008 – is a quick, efficient and convenient way to get around town.
There are twelve routes in total, covered by a fleet of over 1,300 modern, remarkably clean buses. Most run from 5am in the morning until midnight, appearing every fifteen minutes or so. Coverage is sparse in some areas of the city – anyone based on the south-west side of the island in Al Rowdah can forget it – but those carrying out their business in Tourist Club Area and the surrounding districts should have no problem getting from A to B. Full details and maps are available in the travel section of the government’s website (www.abudhabi.ae) but as a general guide, routes 5, 7, 8 and 9 cover the width of the city, while 32, 34, 44, 52 and 54 cover the length, with the latter taking you all the way over Maqtaa Bridge, off the main island and into the suburb of Umm Al Naar. Better still, the service is remarkably cheap to use – especially for those who’ve stumped up the wince-inducing fares demanded in other big cities. A single journey costs Dhs1, which is dropped into a metal box next to the driver’s cabin upon boarding (don’t expect the driver to change a note for you – he won’t). Anyone looking to use the service regularly should get themselves an Ojra pass, which can be picked up at designated kiosks in Marina Mall, Al Bateen Mall, Abu Dhabi Mall and Al Wahda Mall. A one-day pass costs Dhs3 and a monthly pass is Dhs40, while senior citizens (aged over 60) and disabled passengers can apply for a pass that allows them unlimited free travel – these can be picked up from Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station (on the corner of 11th and 4th Street, near Al Wahda Mall) upon presentation of a passport and passport-size photo.
Taxis in Abu Dhabi are plentiful and extremely cheap in comparison to most Western countries. Daytime fares (6am-10pm) start at Dhs3 and rise by Dhs1 per km. At night this goes up to Dhs3.60 and Dhs1.20. There are over 7,000 taxis operating in the city, run by seven reputable local companies and regulated by TransAD. These are silver with a yellow light on top, run on a metre and have drivers who are kept to strict regulations about speeding, courtesy and charges. Nonetheless, the capital’s roads take some getting used to, with high speeds and aggressive driving more or less the norm. If you can avoid the old green and white taxis – do. They are unregulated and usually don’t have metres. There aren’t many left however, as they’re being quickly phased out. Most of the city’s taxi drivers are of Indian or Pakistani descent and speak adequate if not fluent English and Arabic as well as their mother tongue, so there shouldn’t be much of a language barrier.
What might be a problem is actually explaining where you need to go. Abu Dhabi has a complicated address system and a whole network of backstreets without names, with certain roads referred to by both a name and a number. But don’t panic – it’s usual to describe where you’re going by landmarks and directions rather than a formal address, and all major buildings tend to be used as landmarks, so instructions to a taxi driver will be along the lines of “Behind El Dorado cinema on Electra Street” or “Opposite the Chevrolet garage on the Corniche”. The first time you go somewhere, of course, it’s always wise to bring the phone number of someone who can help with directions.
Taxi drivers aren’t allowed to ask for a tip or keep the change, but bear in mind that the drivers work very long hours for low pay. Most people round their fare up to the nearest Dhs5 at the least – often more if it’s a long journey.
The taxis are, as said, extremely well regulated and safe, and it’s entirely appropriate for women to take them alone at any time of the day or night, but if for religious or personal reasons you don’t want a male taxi driver, there is a fleet of ‘Ladies Taxis’ operating in the city, emblazoned with designs of pink flowers along the sides and a neon pink light on top – unmissable! They cost the same as normal taxis and can be flagged down or booked in advance. The priority is for solo female passengers, but they can also be used by men as long as they are with their families.
Driving in Abu Dhabi should be fairly straightforward – in keeping with most countries, driving is on the right and the roads are constructed on a simple grid system. Unfortunately, Abu Dhabi’s questionable driving standards and ongoing roadworks (especially on Salam Street, due to be completed in June 2011), coupled with the fact that many streets have more than one name, can make driving a nightmare. Abu Dhabi Police have a useful website (www.adpolice.gov.ae) which gives advice on driving and traffic violations, and also provides useful road maps.
Most major car rental firms have outlets at the airport and many of the city’s hotels. You must be over 21 to hire a small car, or over 24 for larger vehicles (two litres and over). Prices vary, with the cheapest starting at around Dhs100 per day. To hire a vehicle, you’ll need your UAE driving licence (if you’re a resident; your licence from your country of origin if not), your passport, a passport photocopy and a credit card.
Swapping your licence:
Until you have your residency visa, you can drive on your licence from your country of origin, or an international licence from a country on the transfer list, which includes the UK, the US, Japan and Australia, as well as many European countries (contact the Traffic Police Licensing Department on 02 419 5555 for the full list). Once you have your full visa, you can apply for a UAE driving licence, and in fact it becomes illegal to continue driving without one. You’ll need to submit all the necessary documents to the Traffic Police Licensing Department. Abu Dhabi police’s website and the government website (www.abudhabi.ae) have the full list of documents you’ll need to submit, as well as a list of prices. There’s also useful information on anything travel-related, from paying fines to registering a vehicle.
If you don’t hold a licence in your country of origin, or if yours is not one of the countries on the transfer list, then you’ll need to take a driving test. First, you’ll need to get a learners’ permit from the traffic police. You’ll need all your essential documents (again, the full list is available on the Abu Dhabi Police or government websites), driving licence documents, results of your eye-test (done in-house by the traffic police) and Dhs100. Next, you’ll need to take lessons – a reputable choice is the Emirates Driving Company (02 551 1911, www.edcad.ae). When your instructor decides you’re ready, you can apply for a test date. You’ll need to pass a written test, a parking test and a road test. If you’re successful, you’ll be presented with a certificate that you can exchange for your licence at the Traffic Police Licencing Department