BY RAYNALD C RIVERA
Qatar gets extremely hot in summer, and with temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius, waiting for a public bus in the sun is an agonising experience for passengers.
There are more than a hundred bus shelters across the country, but they offer little respite to hapless waiting passengers from the intolerable heat and humidity. At the peak of summer, standing in the sun even for a minute is unbearable.
Two days ago, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) launched a ‘Beat the Heat’ campaign in view of the high rate of dehydration and heat-related illnesses in the country.
HMC officials said heat-related illnesses could damage the brain and vital organs, and lead to death.
In 2009, state-owned transport company Mowasalat built the country’s first air-conditioned bus shelter in Lusail on a trial basis. In January 2011, Mowasalat opened its first AC bus shelter on the Corniche.
It is two and a half years since the first AC bus shelter was launched, but still there are only three such facilities among the more than hundred bus shelters in Doha.
Set up in collaboration with q.media Decaux, the three AC bus shelters are situated on Airport Road, near the VIP roundabout, and beside Lulu Hypermarket on D Ring Road.
“Bus shelters 1 and 2 near Souq Waqif and near Museum of Islamic Art were removed due to ongoing road works,” Mowasalat said.
The locations where the bus shelters were set up are said to be most frequented by people waiting for buses.
While many of the around 40 bus routes have services at intervals of 15 to 30 minutes, on some routes passengers have to wait for at least two hours for the next bus. Then there are long routes with limited services, such as the Doha-Al Shamal route (No. 100), which has three journeys a day; Doha-Abu Samra route (No.136), which has four journeys a day; and the Doha-Dukhan route (No. 104A), which has six journeys a day.
Traffic diversions and congestion due to road works sometimes delay buses, prolonging the agony of those waiting at the bus stops.
In view of this there has been a clamour from people using Mowasalat’s public bus service for more air-conditioned bus shelters to be set up around the country.
“If Dubai was able to install hundreds of these bus shelters, I don’t see any reason why Qatar can’t do it, having all the resources to provide better services to public transport users,” said Shamim, a Bangladeshi national who worked for three years in the emirate.
“Maybe this is not on the list of their priorities right now,” he added.
According to a statement from Mowasalat, “The AC bus shelter was a part of product development to test the product in Qatar.”
The bus shelters have been designed with energy-saving technology. The air conditioning functions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A minimum temperature of 24 degrees Celsius is set for them to start, so they automatically stop working in winter. Additionally, space for the handicapped has been allotted at the shelters, making them better than those in some other countries.
Dubai was the first place in the region to set up an AC bus shelter, in 2006. It took five years to finish installing around 900 AC bus shelters in the emirate. To upgrade services for passengers, Dubai is planning to provide free Wi-Fi in the shelters from later this year.
Following the success of Dubai’s AC bus shelters, Abu Dhabi also started constructing similar bus shelters in 2009. Abu Dhabi now has around 160 such bus shelters, and by the end of next year, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Transport aims to increase the number to 360.
A visit to Doha’s AC bus shelters yesterday revealed that the air conditioning in the shelter near VIP Roundabout and the one on Airport Road was not functioning, and people were waiting outside. Only in the newly installed bus shelter near Lulu Hypermarket was the AC working.
“This bus shelter is useless, because it is impossible to stay inside because it’s too hot, like an oven,” said Rajo, one of those waiting outside the AC bus shelter.
In the absence of air-conditioned bus shelters, people are left without any choice but look for shaded areas such as at nearby buildings.
The AC bus shelter near Lulu Hypermarket has given some respite to shoppers.
“This is one of the best things that has ever happened here. I always come to Lulu to shop, and waiting for the bus is really a big problem because it’s hot,” said Sultan, a frequent shopper at the outlet.
“I live nearby, in Matar Qadeem, but I still take the bus because it’s too hot to walk,” he added.
As the cheapest form of transport in Qatar, public buses are a blessing to many who don’t have cars, most of them low-income workers.
“It would cost me QR40 every day if I go to work by taxi, but I spend only a quarter of that amount by bus, so I really prefer to take the bus,” said Carlos, an office boy who works in the Dafna area.
Buses plying in Doha charge just QR3 for a trip, and QR2.50 if the passenger gets off the bus before the final destination.
While he is happy with the low fares, Carlos, like other passengers, lamented the sultry conditions he had to endure daily. “I have to carry an extra shirt with me every day because waiting for the bus makes me sweat a lot and sometimes it makes me sick.”
Qatar has been trying to encourage use of public transport by residents, but poor services have proved a big hindrance. Some people believe the government’s recent move to bring in stricter rules for issuing of driving licences to expatriates was aimed not only at reducing the number of vehicles on the roads but also at increasing the use of public transport by people.
Mowasalat should start with setting up an air-conditioned waiting area at the Al Ghanim Central Bus Terminus, which receives thousands of people every day, bus passengers say.
Air-conditioned buses are being used as temporary shelters at the terminus as the waiting sheds were removed after they were damaged by an accident last week which injured 13 people.
“It is much comfortable to wait here. My bus comes every 20 minutes, but there are times when I miss it and I have to wait longer, so this comes as a relief for me,” said a Filipina who is a regular commuter.
Yesterday, the buses could not accommodate the large number of people waiting at the terminus, so they just waited beside the stall selling refreshments while others stood in the shade by the Mowasalat bus station management building.
“They should erect a fully covered air-conditioned waiting area because it is really hot during summer and waiting sheds are not enough,” said a Nepalese who is new to Doha, adding he found it hard to adjust to the country’s hot climate as he came from a cold region in Nepal.