The Red Buses of Riyadh

Have you noticed that the mini buses of Riyadh have faded into the sunset? They are the mini buses that looked like coasters of the 1970s and 1980s design era, apparently called “hafila“. Once upon a time, we called them “killer buses” because they hit the road like they own it! Most of them were driven like they’re always in a rush. Every time I see them in the road, I pray they do not come near our car. That’s how much I fear them (okay, medyo OA haha). However, they’ve been plying the streets of Riyadh (and other major Saudi cities) for half a century now offering a standard SR 2 fare. For sure they’ve been a big help to locals and expats alike back in the day. Ask your OFW fathers or uncles if they rode it!

Saudi Arabia’s retro mini buses. Photo from Jeddah Point.

Anyway, the mini buses were working in Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah, Madinah and Taif until the new transportation system took effect a few months back. We feel for the drivers who lost their jobs and source of income and we hope they have been absorbed by the new system, or at least have found other jobs to provide for and sustain their families, but this change in the commuting system in Riyadh is also welcome as it introduced new and bigger buses in the streets of the city.

Recently, Riyadh has seen massive changes in its transportation system. Because the city has seen traffic congestion problems for the past few years, the King Abdulaziz Project for Riyadh Public Transport was created in 2011. Plans for the development and improvement of all phases of public transport in Riyadh including the Riyadh Metro and buses were made. Studies were conducted by the High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh along with concerned agencies like the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Transport and they established a comprehensive plan for the metro network and a parallel bus network. You know what this means, Royadhizens? We now need to learn the art of commuting in Riyadh!

One of the main privileges that we have in Riyadh is being able to drive and to be driven around to get to one point from another. Private cars have always been the mode of transportation that we know, along with regular cabs that for the longest time have made women passengers weary (oh you know the stories that have persisted about these taxis for so long). Now that Riyadh needs more options to accommodate its growing population, the use of private cars will be kept to a minimum. Thus the need for a comprehensive, effective, and appropriate modes of transport for everyone.

Hello, red buses of Riyadh!

The Saudi Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) has introduced the red SAPTCO buses to service within Saudi Arabia’s main cities: Mecca, Medina, Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. A flat fee of SR 2  for each passenger is still the standard fare. If you’ve been seeing this kind of buses in Riyadh, you’re probably wondering where they’re going and from where? Can you board and ride them? Of course!

Disclaimer: My photos in this entry will appear like I’m a stalker taking photos of the red buses anywhere, haha. It’s just that I’m also on the road when I see them so every time I spot one, I shout “wait!!!” to my husband, startling him to slow down but not slow enough for me to take good photos of the bus. So yes, photos are blurred and most of them taken at night. 😛

Red bus spotted along King Fahd Road

IS IT FOR EVERYONE? Each SAPTCO bus has three doors that ensure passengers a safe and easy ascent and descent. And the buses are no longer for males only! The back door is designated for families and all buses are said to have areas for women. Now, we have seen these buses plying the roads of Riyadh for quite some time and we haven’t really seen women boarding them. We haven’t also seen women inside the buses but maybe that’s because we haven’t been informed yet! Haha! I wish they tell us on a more public announcement no? Going to Batha would be easier for us then! Some of these buses are also equipped with appliances for the disabled. They’re fitted with air-conditioning, comfortable seats and upper handholds. If they’re anything like the SAPTCO buses that service the Bahrain route then they’re okay.

Bus in traffic, also along King Fahd Road.

HOW DO WE PAY THE FARE? All buses have a service machine for a smart card. These smart cards can be bought from designated vending machines. SAPTCO also has a specific mobile phone app for this called SAPTCO Urban Transport. I downloaded the one for iPhone and here’s what it looks like:

The SAPTCO Bus App

You can also download the app in Android. It has a basic, easy interface. There’s a user guide that informs you how to purchase and recharge tickets to be used in the red buses. To purchase QR  cards, you need to register for an account and then tap the Buy My Card button. Denominations for SR 25, SR 50, SR 75, etc. are available. Choose one and press continue. You can pay by using a credit card or through Sadad. After payment goes goes through, the QR card with the amount will show up. Every time you board the bus, click on the QR code button and a virtual card QR code will appear. You just have to tap your mobile screen (with the QR code) on the validator device inside the bus and it will read the code and deduct the fare from your balance. Easy peasy!

The app interface

If you don’t have a credit card or don’t know how Sadad works, you can manually buy a card at the main bus station in Riyadh located in Al Azizia district in the South Ring Road. That is quite far, friends!

WHERE DO THE BUSES GO? Ahhh, the bus routes! When we saw the buses on the road, we saw their routes flashed above and at the back of the buses. We tried to take note of their route by writing them down. Only to find out the routes are available in their website! Lol. Pinahirapan pa ang sarili. We’re actually surprised that it’s clearly published in their website because we’re so used to just learning of Riyadh-related stuff on our own. Sariling sikap, bes! Anyway, here’s the route of all buses. Take note of the route numbers so you don’t get on one that will not go to your destination!

Mafi mallum Arabi! Haha! I can’t read that text. But the SAPTCO website is in English.

This is how we’re explaining the routes to you in this post: 
Route Number / Frequency of buses each day (how many minutes ’til the next bus)
Start of the route -> Places that it passes through -> Route destination
* Vice-versa means that the buses also go in reverse routes; they make return trips. They go back to the start of the route from the destination, just like what’s indicated in the image above.

ROUTE 7 / Buses come and go every 10 minutes from Saturday to Thursday. Every Friday, it rans every 20 minutes in the mornings and every 10 minutes in the evenings.
Al Batha -> Civil Affairs – Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Al Nasiriyah – King Khalid Grand Mosque – King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital -> King Khaled University Hospital (and vice-versa)

ROUTE 8 / Buses come and go every 10 minutes from Saturday to Thursday. Every Friday, it rans every 16 minutes in the mornings and every 8 minutes in the evenings.
Al Batha -> Civil Affairs – Ministry of Foreign Affairs – King Faisal Specialist Hospital – Euromarche – King Abdullah Financial District -> Dallah Driving School (and vice-versa)

ROUTE 9 / Buses come and go every 10 minutes from Saturday to Thursday. Every Friday, it rans every 10 minutes in the mornings and every 5 minutes in the evenings.
Public Transportation Center -> Al Batha – Chamber of Commerce – Faisaliyah Tower – Kingdom Tower – Uwais Markets -> North Vegetable Markets (and vice-versa)

ROUTE 10 / Buses come and go every 20 minutes from Saturday to Thursday. Every Friday, it rans every 40 minutes in the mornings and every 20 minutes in the evenings.
Al Batha -> Central Post – King Faisal bin Fahd Stadium – Riyadh Zoo – Ministry of the National Guard – Labour Office (AL Rawdah) -> Al Rawdah District (and vice-versa)

ROUTE 16 / Buses come and go every 10 minutes from Saturday to Thursday. Every Friday, it rans every 16 minutes in the mornings and every 8 minutes in the evenings.
Al Batha -> Al Maglya Shopping Center – King Saud Medical City – Haggar School – Albadeah Mall – Al Nasr Club -> Jeddah Road Bridge (and vice-versa)

ROUTE 17 / Buses come and go every 10 minutes from Saturday to Thursday. Every Friday, it rans every 14 minutes in the mornings and every 7 minutes in the evenings.
Al Batha -> Riyadh Water Tower – Al Kharj – Yamama Saudi Cement Factor – Convalescent Hospital – Saudi Cables -> Industrial City (and vice-versa)

All bus service starts at 5:30 AM and ends 11:30 PM. 

Are you ready to commute via the urban buses of Riyadh?

Did you get it? For example, you are in Nasriyah and wants to go to King Khaled University Hospital. You have to wait for the Bus #7. If you’re from King Faisal Specialist Hospital and wants to go to Batha, you have to wait for the Bus #8. There are bus stops along the road. There’s a marker that indicates where you can wait for the bus. Now, how do we ask the driver to stop? In the Philippines, we shout “mama para!!!” which is our Filipino version of “driver, please stop!!!” In these buses, there’s probably a button that passengers can push to indicate to the driver that he needs to stop because someone wants to get out of the bus. Or, there are only the designated stops.

Waitttt! I’m taking a photo of you! Lols.

IS IT SAFE? Well, based on our initial assessment (which means just by looking at it lol), we think they’re rather safe. Here’s what it looks like from a Youtube video by SAPTCO:

We haven’t tried riding the red buses of Riyadh but for the sake of The Pink Tarha’s goal of informing you, we will try it one of these days! Stay tuned!

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