A Timeline of Qatar’s Public Transport Transformation

By now you must have heard that Qatar is an oil-rich state that has done reasonably well to invest its wealth after laying out a solid economic diversification strategy.

This has transformed the Gulf nation into one of the richest nations in the world based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita.

World Bank data shows that the country’s GDP per capita grew from $2,755 in 1990 to $50,805 in 2020.

According to a report published by the Brookings Institution (an American economic think tank) titled: Economic Diversification in The Gulf: Time to Redouble the Efforts, Qatar is one of the countries in the Gulf region that prepared for a future without oil.

In 2005, Qatar founded the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the country’s sovereign wealth fund — a kitty geared at strengthening the economy by investing in new asset classes.

The result? In the current year, QIA is sitting on $300 billion worth of assets.

Part of that diversification strategy included building modern cities and infrastructure to accelerate economic growth and attract tourists.

The tourism sector, in particular, has been a big boon for the country. According to data shared by CEIC, Qatar’s tourism revenue at the close of 2019 stood at USD16 billion compared to USD15 billion the previous year.

The report notes that Qatar has built modern cities with top drawer infrastructure to service them which has provided a solid foundation for future economic growth.

The magnitude of investment in transport infrastructure reflects this.

A paper published by the Oxford Business Group titled Transport Infrastructure Central to Qatar’s economic Development outlines the level of seriousness Qatari authorities are treating this sector.

In the 2019 budget, QR49.4bn – or 24% of total projected spending- was allocated to infrastructure, transportation, and communication, with significant portions of this going towards road and rail projects. The 2019 funding represents the continuation of a trend stretching back to 2013 that has seen the government outlay upwards of 20% of its total annual budget on infrastructure

OXFORD BUSINESS GROUP PAPER

So what is public transport in Qatar like?

The Doha Metro snaking through the city. The world-class facility was opened in 2019 in good time before the country hosts the FIFA World Cup in 2022. {Image Source: Railway Technolgy}
The Doha Metro snaking through the city. The world-class facility was opened in 2019 in good time before the country hosts the FIFA World Cup in 2022. {Image Source: Railway Technology}

Evolution of Public Transport in Qatar

To understand how far public transport in Qatar has come, we must first of all study its evolution and the factors that precipitated the growth.

A research report titled Rebuilding the Transportation System in the City of Doha authored by Khaled Shaaban and Essam Radwan observes that Qatar’s urban transport has undergone three important phases.

  1. The Traditional Phase
  2. The Transition Phase
  3. The Modern-Oil-Related Phase

“Each phase, along with factors of a political nature and trade, has played key roles in the rise and fall of early towns of Qatar,”

reads the report.

Doha’s Early Traditional Phase: Pre-Oil Era to 1950s

Qatar’s ancient inhabitants were known to be skilled merchants and seafarers.

Upon arriving in the current day Qatar, the inhabitants settled in the country’s North-Western Area, Al Zubara, the oldest seaport in the nation.

Doha and other Qatari cities were developed far from the ethnic conflicts that took place at Al Zubara territory on the North Side of the Peninsula.

It was considered to be safe from the conflicts between Abu Dhabi Emirate and Bahrain.

During this period;

  • Doha’s deep sea water and its circular shape attracted inhabitants and fishermen
  • The migration to Doha was being accelerated by its status as a hub for fishing, pearl diving and nomadic activities
  • Importation of commodities from Iran and India was taking off
Doha in the early 1950s when migrants were beginning to settle in the area {Image Source: Wikiwand}
Doha in the early 1950s when migrants were beginning to settle in the area {Image Source: Wikiwand}

Factors such as poor soil conditions and limited water resources affected the early distribution of population in Qatar.

Gradually as the pearling industry developed, seaports were established which positioned Doha as a trade hub.

Another factor that contributed to Doha becoming Qatar’s capital is that it emerged as the headquarters of the ruling tribes that hosted the new governmental foundation.

Doha’s Transition Phase Post-Oil Era (1960’s)

Qatar discovered oil in 1939 but halted exploration between 1942 and 1947 because of two reasons; World War II and the Bahrain Embargo.

This newfound oil wealth acted as a catalyst for urban development.

Qatar in the 1960s after discovering oil. {Image Source:  Business Insider India}
Qatar in the 1960s after discovering oil. {Image Source: Business Insider India}

True development started being undertaken in the country in 1955 when a need to accommodate expatriates arose.

Between 1949 and 1969, Doha’s population increased by 600 inhabitants.

As a result, new administrative centres emerged to manage the huge revenues.

Doha’s Rapid Modernization Phase (the 1970s to Current Day)

After the British pulled out following the colonization period, Qatar declared its independence on September 3, 1971.

Doha as the capital of the newly independent state began attracting hundreds of foreign professionals and workers employed in the engineering and construction industries.

In the early 70s, Qatar witnessed a sharp increase in the construction of transport and infrastructure systems.

Between 1978 until 1981, the state’s reclamation of land from the sea accelerated the modernization of the downtown.

The reclamation was done to facilitate the construction of transport projects such as the Corniche Road which became a symbol for the new city.

Since that time, Qatar has witnessed rapid growth as Doha became a trade hub.

Bird's eye view of present-day Qatar. {Image Source: Jovannig via Depositphotos}
Bird’s eye view of present-day Qatar. {Image Source: Jovannig via Depositphotos}

“This unprecedented rapid urban growth experienced by the State of Qatar for the last few decades made effective and coordinated planning difficult which in turn resulted in several problems such as urban sprawl, traffic congestion, and improper spatial allocation and distribution of public facilities and infrastructure.”

reads the report.

Timeline of the Evolution of Public Transport in Qatar

  • In the early 70s, when Qatar was turning to modern engineering, a radial road ring pattern was installed in Doha to accommodate increasing numbers, and requirements for motor vehicles.
  • As the city continued to develop, the distances to be travelled and the number of travelers increased.
  • Development brought with it several limitations associated with convenience and time.
  • The construction industry turned to lorries and pickups to move workers around. Smaller numbers of people were transported using taxis.
  • In 2004, Qatar’s public transport began to shape up properly after Mowasalat introduced the national bus for public transport. Mowasalat is the state-owned organization that operates bus, taxi, and limousine services in the country.
  • Public bus transport was limited to certain routes in the beginning but the system was improved in anticipation for the Asian games 2006.
  • Bus transport was the official transportation mode to the venues of the tournament.
  • Before the tournament began, a major bus terminal (Old Al Ghanim) was introduced.
  • In 2007, Mowasalat laid out the main plan for the bus service. The authority decided that the buses would serve a minimum walking distance of 700 metres to 800 metres from the serving location.
  • The demand for public bus transport in a particular area was closely scrutinized before decisions on bus stop allocations were made.
  • In the present day, after a bus clocks 5000 kilometres, technical maintenance is done to guarantee quality service.
  • Mowasalat has its technical training centre where all drivers trained and taught how to use modern software relevant to their work.

Stellar Transport Systems

This remarkable growth is what birthed Qatar as we know it today.

The country’s development plans are guided by the Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030), the state’s blueprint for national growth.

As it stands, the state is showing no signs of diverting from its aggressive development plans.

Bagging the rights to host the FIFA World Cup 2022 prompted the country to accelerate its development plans but the blueprint provides for sustainable growth even beyond the tournament.

An aerial shot of the Al Janoub Stadium which will be the venue for five group matches and one of the round of 16 matches. Winning the rights to host the 2022 World Cup has accelerated Qatar's development goals but the development juggernaut is designed to transcend the tournament. {Image Source: The Stadium Guide}
An aerial shot of the Al Janoub Stadium which will be the venue for five group matches and one of the rounds of 16 matches. Winning the rights to host the 2022 World Cup has accelerated Qatar’s development goals but the development juggernaut is designed to transcend the tournament. {Image Source: The Stadium Guide}

As captured by the Oxford Business Group report, the World Cup will be used as a yardstick to measure the capacity of the country’s transport systems.

To develop a country with thriving modern cities by 2030, the transport infrastructure has to be able to cater for the anticipated growth in population and to ensure that those people are able to move efficiently around the country.

Khalid Nasser Al Hail, Managing Director of Mowasalat to the Oxford Business Group

Having established the background and context of public transport in Qatar, let us look at the different modes of mobility in the country.

Climate & Public Transport

One of the things that must be pointed out when Qatar is being mentioned is the country’s hot climate. During peak summer, citizens and visitors are advised not to walk around even for short distances as the conditions during that time are not conducive.

Aside from that, the public transport network in Qatar is fast and efficient.

As stated earlier in this article, the Qatari government has invested billions more to polish its transport systems in anticipation of the FIFA 2022 World Cup.

Public Transport Apps in Qatar

The advanced nature and continuous improvement of public transport in Qatar means that the sector is highly digitalized and commuters can use apps to make bookings, check schedules and verify information across all major means of transport in the country.

AppFunctionAvailability
Doha Metro AppPlanning trips with the Doha MetroAvailable for both Android and iOS
Metroexpress AppFeeder service for the Doha Metro (Taxi). The app is used in conjunction with the Doha Metro app. Travellers can book rides to pick and drop them in and around six Doha Metro stations via the Metroexpress appAvailable for both Android and iOS
Karwa AppMowasalat, the state-owned public transport agency offers its services through different versions of the Karwa App including Karwa Bus and Karwa Taxi   Commuters can book and pay for a ride as well as monitor the driver via the different versions of the appAvailable for both Android and iOS

Bus Transport

Bus transport in Qatar is offered by Mowasalat, the state-owned organization that operates bus, taxi, and limousine services.

Mowsalat runs a modern, air-conditioned public bus service in Doha and the neighbouring municipalities including Al Rayan, Al Khor, Bu Samra, Al Shamal, Umm Salal, and Dukhan.

A bus parked at a stop in Doha, Qatar. Mowsalat, the state agency offers a catalog of modern, clean, and air-conditioned buses. {Image Source: Qatar's Guide}
A bus parked at a stop in Doha, Qatar. Mowasalat, the state agency offers a catalogue of modern, clean, and air-conditioned buses. {Image Source: Qatar’s Guide}

All Mowasalat buses deploy the use of the Karwa Smart Card for fare collection.

There are three types of Karwa Smart Cards;

Limited — {QR10 (USD 2.75): Two journeys within 24 hours}

Unlimited — {QR20 (USD 5.49): Unlimited journeys within 24 hours}

Classic —     {QR30 (USD8.24): Classic cards which are credit based}

Karwa cards can be purchased from ticket machines at the Doha Bus Station, The Qatar Mall, Hamad International Airport, and The Pearl Qatar.

Travellers pay using the Karwa Smart Card by simply tapping it on the card reader when boarding and alighting the bus.

The Doha Metro operates two of its own bus and ridesharing networks namely the Metrolink and Metroexpress.

Normally, there are 19 Metrolink routes operating 7 days per week.

Travellers have the luxury of booking a ride together with their Doha Metro ride on the Metroexpress app.

Data Corner

A research report titled On the Research for Big Data Uses for Public Good Purposes notes that Big Data mined by telecommunications firm Orange has successfully been deployed to optimize networks and reduce commuting times in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

The report notes this could be replicated elsewhere, that includes Qatar and in this case bus transport.

“Based on the Orange D4D dataset, a research team studied the mobility in Abidjan and showed that by modifying only a little a few bus routes, they could reduce by 10% the average commuting time of the whole population of the city,” reads the report.

REPORT: On the Research for Big Data Uses for Public Good Purposes

Taxis and Ridesharing Services

Mowasalat operates approximately 7,000 aqua-coloured taxis throughout Qatar that travellers can book through a hotline or the Karwa Taxi app. Alternatively, a Karwa taxi can be hailed on the street.

Mowsalat taxi drivers pose for a group photo next to the state-owned taxis. {Image Source: Qatar's Guide}
Mowasalat taxi drivers pose for a group photo next to the state-owned taxis. {Image Source: Qatar’s Guide}

The minimum fare for taxis is QR4 (USD1.10) within Doha and QR25 (USD6.87) at the Hamad International Airport.

Other digital taxi companies that operate in Qatar include Careem and Uber which have apps that travellers can use to hail taxis.

Among the three, Karwa taxis are preferred most because they are spacious, clean, and comfortable.

Data Corner

As mentioned above, Mowasalat, the state agency has over 7,000 taxis to manage. Big Data can be applied in this scenario for auto availability management as suggested by tech website iCoderz.

With the On-Demand Taxi Booking business, it’s a nightmare to keep track of all the inventory of the business. By correlating the location data of all the taxis and the order management system, Big Data can keep track of the inventory. Using this data it can automatically manage the availability of taxis. It can keep track of all the taxis in transit, on standby, idle or in the garage and provide the actual number of available taxis.

ICODERZ

Air Transport

Initially, Doha International Airport was Qatar’s only international airport.

Because of the breakneck speed that Qatar was growing at, Qatar Airport was deemed to be too small to handle the traffic that runs through the facility on a daily basis.

Authorities in the country partially addressed this problem through a large expansion while the country was preparing to host the 15th Asian Games in 2006.

The expansion included the construction of a separate terminal set aside specifically for first-class and business class passengers. The existing terminal was also expanded.

These changes temporarily helped ease the problem but a permanent solution was urgently required.

Doha International Airport could only handle 12 million passengers a year.

In comes the Hamad International Airport (Formerly the New Doha International Airport)

The facility was opened in April 2014 after initially being scheduled to open in 2008. The facility is home to the country’s flagship carrier Qatar Airways and is named after the country’s first Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa.

Qatar Airways plane parked at the Hamad International Airport. {Image Source: Airline Geeks}
Qatar Airways plane parked at the Hamad International Airport. {Image Source: Airline Geeks}

Data Corner

According to a paper published by the Qatar Computing Research Institute, Qatar Airways has established research partnerships with Boeing and The Data Analytics Group in the areas of cargo prediction and predictive maintenance.

This partnership enables the airline to foreshadow when a plane is experiencing technical issues and to institute corrective actions before damage occurs.

The partnership also enables the airline to know the likelihood of attracting cargo business based on past data and hitherto plan for the future.

Doha Metro 

Winning the rights to host the 2022 World Cup accelerated Qatar’s plan to have a world-class metro in Doha.

In 2013, the Qatar Railways Company set the ball rolling and greenlighted construction of the mega project.

The company set out to have the metro constructed in two phases at an estimated cost of $36 billion.

Phase One of the project involved the construction of the Green, Red, and Gold lines alongside 37 stations.

  • The red line — connects the north to the south coastal regions
  • The green line — connects the Education City to Doha’s cultural core
  • The gold line  — runs from East to West along the historical districts

Phase One was completed on schedule and was opened to the public in May 2019.

A photo of the Doha Metro en route to its set destination. Phase One of the project was opened to the public in May 2019. {Image Source: Nyongesa Sande}
A photo of the Doha Metro en route to its set destination. Phase One of the project was opened to the public in May 2019. {Image Source: Nyongesa Sande}

Phase Two of the project involves the addition of a Blue line to the network and will also include expansion of the Phase One lines.

  • The blue line — runs within the inner-city of Doha.

This phase of the project will be completed in 2026 with some 60 additional stations expected to be part of the ensemble.

A schematic of Phase II of the Doha Metro. The project is scheduled to be completed by 2026. {Image Source: Wikimedia Commons}
A schematic of Phase II of the Doha Metro. The project is scheduled to be completed by 2026. {Image Source: Wikimedia Commons}

Fun fact: The Doha Metro is fully automated and driverless.

Tram Transport

Lusail Tram

Phase I of the Lusail Tram became a reality after the consortium tapped to construct the line finished the work in November 2020.

The tramway was one of the projects earmarked to bring Lusail, a city being developed north of Doha to life.

The first phase runs for 9.7 kilometres without overhead line equipment and 12 kilometres underground. The line is served by 16 stations, of which, one interchanges with the metro system. It also has one viaduct crossing over Al Khor Expressway. The line also has one depot.

The Lusail Tram running through the city. Phase I of the project was completed in November 2020. {Image Source: Railway Pro}
The Lusail Tram running through the city. Phase I of the project was completed in November 2020. {Image Source: Railway Pro}

The city’s tram network involves four lines (Red, Purple, Green, and Yellow). It has the capacity to accommodate 1250 passengers per line every hour in each direction.

The construction of Phase II of the project is currently underway.

Education City Tram

The first phase of the Education City tram was opened to Qatari residents in December 2019.

Once completed, it is expected that the Education City Tram will stretch 11.5 kilometres and make 24 stops including at a tunnel under Al Luqta Street

The Education City Tram. The line serves the entire campus which hosts educational institutions. {Image Source: Urban Transport Magazine}
The Education City Tram. The line serves the entire campus which hosts educational institutions. {Image Source: Urban Transport Magazine}

The blue line makes seven stops and serves the entire Education City, an extensive campus specifically set up by the non-profit Qatar Foundation to host education facilities.

Among the education institutions hosted at the campus are eight offshoots of international universities.

Msheireb Tram

Although Qatar Rail is the agency responsible for developing and maintaining rail in the country, one tram line is not managed by the state agency.

The Msheireb Tram was built by Msheireb Properties, the real estate subsidiary of the Qatar Foundation.

The Msheireb Tram running through the city centre. The tramline came into service in December 2019. {Image Source: Msheireb Properties}
The Msheireb Tram running through the city centre. The tramline came into service in December 2019. {Image Source: Msheireb Properties}

Msheireb Tram runs a nine-stop loop that pierces through the new city centre.

Bus Transport vs Tram Transport

Bus transport is the most dominant means of transport across Qatar largely because it is affordable.

In the Capital, the Doha Metro broke bus transport’s near-monopoly when it opened in 2019 attracting commuters with low prices such that they are able to access rides across the city for less than a dollar as reported by Qatar OFW.

Tram transport is not as extensive as bus transport at the moment because there are only three lines in Qatar that are already in operation.

They include the Tram Line in Education City opened in December 2019, the Tram network in Lusail, and the Tram Line in Msheireb which was also opened in December 2019.

As it stands, buses over trams are the standard in Qatari cities including Doha, Al Rayyan, Umm Salal, and Al Wakrah.

Bus transport is the standard mode of transport in most Qatari cities while trams are growing into stature. {Image Source: Iunera}
Bus transport is the standard mode of transport in most Qatari cities while trams are growing into stature. {Image Source: Iunera}

Data Corner

A research report dubbed Recent Applications of Big Data Analytics in Railway Transportation Systems: A Survey gives insight into how smart card data is being used in Qatar rail transport.

Qatar adopts automatic fare collection as transport systems are designed for passengers to use contactless smart cards to check in and out of stations.

Destinations are not known beforehand as with ticket sales. Combined with timetable data this smart card data has been used for deducing passenger route (or train) choice. Methods include path searching over event networks

REPORT: RECENT APPLICATIONS OF BIG DATA ANALYTICS IN RAILWAY TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS: A SURVEY

The route choice models can be used to simulate the trainload factors of new timetables and their rolling stock assignments, but they are also useful in the case of disruptions when traditional route choice models are not valid. Moreover, these models can be used to derive passenger punctuality instead of train punctuality and in decision making during disruption management.

REPORT: RECENT APPLICATIONS OF BIG DATA ANALYTICS IN RAILWAY TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS: A SURVEY

Travelling to Rural Areas in Qatar

Traditionally, vernacular Qatari towns had narrow street networks known as “Sikkas” and tight spaces between buildings.

Narrow alleyway in Doha, Qatar. The city was originally designed to have narrow paths before redevelopment to suit urban growth. {Image Source: Alexey Sergeev}

The narrow streets played a huge role in maximizing the building footprint within the settlement.

The width of the Sikkas allowed for transportation using two animals (camels, donkeys, or horses) occupying approximately 2-3 metres wide area. The animals could be used to pull carts to transport goods.

At the time, transportation was limited to the above-mentioned modes of transport.

The introduction of the motor vehicle was however a game-changer that prompted authorities to redesign their urban architecture.

Currently, buses and personal cars are the most common means to travel to rural areas in Qatar.

A bus that travels long distances in Qatar. {Image Source: Ruwais Info}
A bus that travels long distances in Qatar. {Image Source: Ruwais Info}

Sunglasses and Chill

Cruising through the state of the art means of transport in Qatar you might want to have your sunglasses close by to help you have a panoramic view of the country’s modern developments while in motion.

Here, citizens and visitors do not worry about being caught in traffic, poor services from attendants, or nagging inefficiencies.

The Sheikh is never reminded of their job as far as the development of cities and infrastructure is concerned.

The only conversation we can have with him is how public transport can be improved to be ultra-efficient.

Maybe over a cup of qahwa (Arabic coffee), we should tell him how smart card data from the Dubai Metro can be used to optimize routes such that commuters can take a fraction of the normal time to reach their destination.

This is certainly a story he would be interested in.

The majestic man loves him some innovation.

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