Budget-Friendly Dubai: Getting Around With Local Transport – Forbes

It was 85 degrees out and the Gulf sun was hot. I walked along Jumeriah Road in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates in search of a fare card so that I could take the 81 bus to the Dubai Mall. I assumed that a ticket would be available for purchase on board. I was admittedly ill-informed.
Although many residents opt for Ubers or rental cars, I was determined to use the city’s metro, bus, tram and boat system on a recent five-day visit to the emirate. While Dubai might be synonymous with glitz and glamour, the business hub boasts an extensive, inexpensive public transportation system, operated by the Roads and Transit Authority (RTA).

While many residents prefer Ubers or rental cars, Dubai’s public transportation system is cheap and… [+] easy-to-use. Photo credit: Alexandra Talty.

As I walked down the street, I looked for small shop to buy a Nol or fare card. There were salons for women, a Burger Palace, a Lebanese pastry shop and Arabian villas that looked empty, but no corner stores with cards. One shop had them the day before but then ran out.
After twenty minutes, I stopped to ask a couple on the street for advice. Dressed professionally, they were waiting for a cab. The man said I would have to go to the subway station another twenty minutes away. I must have looked tired: the woman immediately offered me her own Nol Silver Card. I asked how much was on it and she told me not to worry. After some back and forth, she said the card had 100 Emirati dirhams or $27.22. I gave her the money, which she reluctantly accepted. When I got on the bus, I found it had 120 dirhams or $32.67.
Welcome to Dubai.
Officially established in 2005, the city’s public transit system is relatively new. All metro stations are clean and, thankfully, air-conditioned. Eating and listening to loud music is forbidden, making it a far cry from New York City’s subway system that I have navigated for years. With modern touches like a vending machine grocery store or free internet for Emirati SIM cards, it felt a bit like stepping into the future.
Although the system efficient, it doesn’t connect non-central parts of the city, something that residents complain about.
“It is very time consuming,” says Denisa Fainis, a Romanian living in Dubai. Fainis, 28, used the bus and metro for one month in 2015 while on a strict budget. She enjoyed using public transportation, but since she lives further outside of the city, found it to be “inconvenient” for long-term use.
While in Dubai, I stuck to heavily populated areas, riding from Jumeriah Beach Residence to the Dubai Mall or Jumeriah Lakes Towers, more commonly called JLT. My one-way fares were around $5, much less than a $15 or $20 cab ride.
I found the best deal to be the so-called boat bus that operates between Deira and Bur Dubai. For 1 Dirham or $.20, a boat, or abra, motors across Dubai Creek, offering great views of the city and a slice of traditional Emirati life. Abras leave from docks every ten minutes, so there is no need to check a schedule. More information about where to catch abras is available here.

The so-called bus boat or abra offers beautiful views of Dubai Creek for a low price. Photo credit:… [+] Alexandra Talty.

Although it does take advance planning, the public transportation system was an affordable way to see the city and get beyond the touristic sights. School children, professionals and the working class all utilize the local transport, so it offers a side of Dubai not visible at attractions like the Burj Khalifa or Dubai Mall.
Some tips for using public transportation in Dubai:
The best option for tourists is the Nol Silver Card or Red Ticket. Both are fairly inexpensive and can be used for a variety of transit systems, including the bus, tram and metro.
Red Tickets can be front-loaded with ten single trips. They charge for each mode of transportation, so a metro and tram ride would count as two trips, rather than one. The paper ticket costs 2 Dirhams or $.50.
While the Red Ticket is cheaper to buy at first, it can be confusing to use as the system is organized by zones and there is a range in fares. It can’t be recharged in as many locations as the Silver Card, so requires more advance planning.
The Silver Card automatically calculates correct fares between zones and can be used on multiple modes of transport. It costs 25 Dirhams or $6.80, but comes with a value of 19 Dirhams or $5.17. More information on the different types of cards is available here.
However, sure to swipe the Nol card both when entering and exiting, otherwise it will redeem the highest possible fare.
Tunde Shokan, a Nigerian living in Dubai since 2010 advises to pick up an RTA metro map to help plan a trip. Although many of his friends don’t take public transportation, he finds it an easy way to get around and thinks it is a great way for tourists to see the city.
Google Maps is fairly accurate at figuring out which metros, buses and trams connect, making it a great resource.
If you download a route while connected to the internet, you can use Google Maps to track your progress, even if your smartphone doesn’t have data. However, without data, Google maps can’t plan a new route, so be sure to create one prior to leaving a WiFi zone.
RTA’s Journey Planner is also easy to use and available here. It also calculates fares, which can be helpful if using the Red Ticket.
All buses and metros have a women and family section. This practice of females-only sections on public transportation is fairly common across the Middle East. The meaning varies across countries but in the Emirates, women are welcome everywhere while men are restricted to their own section.
I rode in both the women-only section and the regular section and didn’t notice a huge difference. However, males would be advised to avoid the women section.


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