The countries in the Middle East are making concrete efforts to introduce policies to promote sustainable transport. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are making notable efforts towards green mobility, while Saudi Arabia has announced its intention to build a zero-carbon city as part of its NEOM project. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are also on the agenda to explore more future-forward transportation. 

The Middle East and sustainability

Governments, businesses, and communities in the Middle East are pledging to pursue a greener future and are moving towards adopting sustainable lifestyles. Governments in the region have declared ambitious sustainability targets. Saudi Arabia is looking at generating over 27GW of clean power by 2023 and over 58GW by 2030, while the UAE Energy Strategy is targeting 50 per cent in clean energy by 2050. Dubai is aiming to reduce fossil fuel usage, with 2030 as the horizon, and to improve air quality; it is pursuing green mobility by increasing the share of electric and hybrid vehicles. Jordan, which has more than 18,000 electric vehicles on its streets, is looking at electrifying its entire public vehicle fleet.

Figure 1 depicts the growing interest in and around the Middle East in clean fuels in public transport and the increasing decarbonisation of fleets.

Figure 1: Clean fuels for public transport in Middle East and North Africa
SourceElectric Bus in MENA, UITP

Initiatives by the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are noteworthy in terms of investment and the seriousness of the respective governments in achieving their sustainability goals.


Country-wide strategy: The UAE has launched initiatives and plans to achieve sustainability and has set key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure its targets. Its Vision 2021 is targeting a sustainable environment and infrastructure by 2021. The National Climate Change Plan of the UAE 2017–2050 is a roadmap to bolster nationwide actions for climate change mitigation. The UAE also launched its Green Growth Strategy in 2012 under the theme “Green Economy for Sustainable Development”. The strategy is based on six drivers: Green Economy, Government Policies, Green Urban Planning, Tackling the Effects of Climatic Change, Rational Use of Natural Resources, and Green Technology.

Initiatives in Dubai: At a more local level, Dubai launched its Smart City strategy in 2014. It focuses on 1,000 government services and seeks development in six main areas: transportation, infrastructure, communications, financial services, urban planning, and electricity. The strategy aims to optimise energy use and to ensure smarter transport and recreational areas. Demand-side management of electricity and increased public transportation are critical elements of the strategy.

Sustainable mobility in practice in the UAE

Initiatives by Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA)

In 2019, the RTA carried out 74 initiatives and projects in the fields of green economy, environmental sustainability, and power efficiency. The ultimate objective was to use sustainable options in line with the UAE’s Green Growth Strategy. The initiatives included green mobility means like electric, hybrid, and hydrogen vehicles as well as electric/hybrid abras (water taxis) powered by solar energy. The RTA is keen to increase the use of hybrid vehicles; the goal is to have hybrid vehicles account for 50 per cent of the fleet by 2021. Plans are also underway to introduce buses with Euro 6 engines into service.

Further, the RTA is contributing to efforts aimed at reducing the carbon footprint by increasing the proportion of passengers on the Dubai Metro, Dubai Tram, and public buses. Other green initiatives include installing solar cells in RTA buildings and facilities, as well as using LED lights in streets, traffic signals, and tram and metro stations.

Electric buses in the UAE

Tests and trials of electric buses are taking place in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah.

Abu Dhabi: Masdar, in cooperation with the Department of Transport (DOT), launched the Hafilat Industry battery electric bus (BEB) in December 2018. The Eco-Bus was jointly developed by Masdar, Hafilat, and Siemens. The bus has been tested and evaluated for about two years to ensure performance and durability in summer weather conditions.

Dubai: Electric bus pilots have been ongoing since 2015. The RTA has also been testing wireless dynamic charging (Shaped Magnetic Field In Resonance [SMFIR] technology) for electric buses in preparation for the future deployment of such buses.

Sharjah: The Sharjah Road & Transport Authority commenced a six-month pilot operation of a Changhan BEB in December 2019 on the Sharjah–Ajman route.

Other initiatives

In August 2020, Sharjah Airport became the first carbon-neutral airport in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the second in the Middle East to attain a Level 3+ Neutrality accreditation. The airport has adopted many green initiatives and programmes in line with the commitments that fall under the Green Growth Strategy and to support the national agenda to attain Vision 2021.

Masdar City is Abu Dhabi’s flagship sustainable urban development project. The mobility strategy for the city is based on a hierarchy that places pedestrians first. Elements of a sustainable transportation network that are being explored include an electric bus; the first rapid-charging station for electric vehicles in the Middle East; driverless vehicles; and an electric-powered automated Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system.


An important part of Qatar’s Public Transportation Plan 2030 is the Electric Vehicle (EV) Strategy. By 2022, 25 per cent of the public transit bus fleet in Qatar will be electric, and by 2030, the country plans to turn its entire public transportation system into fully environmentally friendly vehicles. Qatar is aiming to be a pioneer in the area of clean energy mass transit, becoming one of the very first countries in the world to have an integrated electric bus system.

As part of its strategic plans, the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MOTC) is coordinating with several government entities to install and operate EV charging units in 2020 and 2021, as well as coordinating with private sector companies to provide a number of charging units for free that will be installed at locations to be specified by MOTC. The ministry is working to establish the region’s largest solar-powered electric charging station in Lusail City, which will be connected to all stations. Several EV parking spaces will also be established.

Sustainable mobility in practice in Qatar

FIFA World Cup 2022

Qatar is aiming to organise an exceptional, eco-friendly, and carbon-neutral FIFA World Cup 2022. This is reflected in the increased integration of multiple modes of transport; adoption of sustainable and environment-friendly solutions like the electric bus system and its linking with the advanced Doha Metro system; implementation of smart and innovative transport solutions; and projects for highways and development of internal roads. Mowasalat (Karwa) is in the process of purchasing 3,000 new buses for the World Cup, of which more than 25 per cent will be electric.

Project Qatar Mobility

The project seeks to create a holistic ecosystem for autonomous driving, including the appropriate legal framework, smart city infrastructure, and transfer of knowledge to ensure the sustainable and commercial deployment of autonomous driving shuttles and bus services. For this, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) will work with Volkswagen to develop the required physical and digital infrastructure. Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Scania, MOIA, and AID-Autonomous Intelligent Driving will also play key roles. Trials are to begin in 2021, and the project will go live in 2022.

Electric bus

The MOTC along with Mowasalat (Karwa) started piloting a North BEB in September 2018.

Qatar Public Transport Program (QPTP)

The QPTP intends to overhaul the current bus service and to fully integrate it with other multimodal transport systems planned for Qatar, so that it will provide a seamless travel experience and reduce private car usage.

Saudi Arabia

One of the major goals of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is achieving environmental sustainability. The country seeks to protect the environment by increasing the efficiency of waste management, establishing comprehensive recycling projects, reducing all types of pollution, fighting desertification, and promoting the optimal use of water resources through the participation of the private sector and through government funds.

For Riyadh, Vision 2030 includes four grand place-making projects: King Salman Park, Sports Boulevard, Green Riyadh, and Riyadh Art around the new metro stations. Its urban forestation initiative, “Green Riyadh”, will increase the per capita share of green space by planting trees. The resulting improvement in air quality and reduced temperatures is expected to increase the uptake of more active transport modes. As yet, Riyadh’s plans do not include a switch from vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine to cleaner, greener vehicles.

Sustainable mobility in practice in Saudi Arabia

The NEOM project

In January 2021, Saudi Arabia unveiled plans to build a zero-carbon city called The Line at NEOM. NEOM is a major pillar of Saudi’s Vision 2030. The city is intended to be car- and road-free. NEOM is looking at high-speed transit and on-demand shared mobility enabled by autonomous solutions and ubiquitous digital infrastructure. The city will prioritise walking, cycling, and personal electric mobility devices. There will also be access to high-speed, backbone public transit services connecting all neighbourhoods.

Construction of The Line is expected to commence in the first quarter of 2021.

Clean-fuel buses

In March 2020, Zhuzhou CRRC Times Electric Company Limited confirmed that it had received an order for 20 electric buses from Saudi Arabia. These smart electric buses are especially developed, with outstanding radiation-resistant and cooling effects based on the local operating environment.

In September 2020, Hyundai Motor Company exported hydrogen-powered vehicles to Saudi Arabia for the first time under a hydrogen partnership with Saudi Aramco. Hyundai Motor Company exported a total of four vehicles: two hydrogen fuel cell electric cars called Nexo and two hydrogen fuel cell electric buses called Elec City FCEV. The Nexo cars and Elec City FCEV buses will be used for test driving and other pilot projects.

Autonomous shuttles

In December 2019, two driverless shuttles, Olli and EZ10, went on trial on the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) campusas part of a collaborative project between KAUST, Local Motors Industries, EasyMile, and the Saudi Public Transport Company (SAPTCO). Both the shuttles were electric, running on battery.

A final word

Conditions in the Middle East present extra challenges to the adoption of sustainable public transport chiefly because of the relatively underdeveloped public transport systems in the region and the low cost of fossil fuels, which reinforces the convenience of travelling by car. Of the 180 countries listed in the Environmental Performance Index 2020, the UAE is ranked 42, Saudi Arabia is ranked 90, and Qatar is ranked 122, which places their environmental performance well below those of some of their European counterparts. Major oil-producing nations are increasingly cognizant of their large carbon footprint and are undertaking ambitious projects to reduce it. Some projects will come to fruition in the short term, while the full effect of others will only be apparent in the medium to long term. However, the fact that countries in the Middle East are serious about their intentions is evident from the significant investments they have earmarked for this purpose, the encouragement of participation by private players, and the creation of an enabling policy and regulatory environment to support their efforts.   

The article has been sourced from Global Mass Transit