Is paid parking worth the cost?

What do you think about paid parking? While some motorists in Abu Dhabi praise the new system, many drivers argue it causes more problems than it solves.

Streets are neater and it is often easier to find a place to park your car. But are the benefits of metered parking in busy areas worth the cost? For people shopping or banking in Abu Dhabi's city centre, the introduction of parking meters has largely been a success. Spaces are easier to find at a low cost - Dh3 an hour for premium spots, which are mostly near main thoroughfares and are marked with turquoise and white stripes, and Dh2 an hour for secondary bays, which are mainly in back streets and are marked with turquoise and black stripes. Residents who can afford Dh800 a year for a parking permit are also likely to be happy.

But city workers who prefer to drive rather than take a bus or compete for a taxi are finding those few extra dirhams spent each hour soon add up to a hefty chunk of their weekly budget. "It's a nightmare," says Robert Ionescu, a supervisor for a local building contractor who moved to Abu Dhabi from Romania eight months ago. "I live here and my office is just down the road, but because I have a company car I can't get a resident's permit. I'm in and out of the office a lot and I need my car nearby, so I'm spending about Dh20 a day ... that's Dh100 a week on parking."

Mr Ionescu says that when he's in meetings the thought of the meter ticking away preys on his mind. "I'm on edge all day. I am in a meeting with my boss and I'm thinking about whether I put enough money in the meter," he says. "I was four minutes late once, and I got a fine for Dh100." Shaimaa Al Houseini, who moved to Abu Dhabi from Egypt four years ago and works at Al Hilaal Bank on Hamdan Street, says the new parking regulations are a blessing that come with a cost.

"I spend between Dh15 and Dh20 extra a day on parking now, sometimes more. It's too much," she says. "I'm already paying Dh100 a month for parking at my apartment in Khalidiya." She says there should be a discount for motorists who park in metered areas while at work. "I do notice I have less money now," she says. "But if I have a meeting outside the office I don't have to leave early to walk a long way to my car, and when I come back I don't spend an hour looking for somewhere to park. Buying parking for me is buying time."

Meters were introduced to Dubai in 2006, but parking on all of Abu Dhabi's city streets was free until October of last year, when the capital's Department of Transport began to roll out its Mawaqif project.Mawaqif is a parking management program set up in parnership with the Abu Dhabi Municipality, Abu Dhabi Police and the Urban Planning Council. By the end of 2010 there will be 35,000 paid parking spaces in 19 of the city's business areas.

Already, residents say they have seen improvements in metered areas, such as a greater availability of parking spaces and fewer abandoned cars.  Najib Al Zarouni, the general manager of Mawaqif, says studies are being conducted to compare areas before and after the introduction of paid parking. In addition, the organisation is analysing the emirate as a whole to see where further changes should be made.

Shazada Khan, an Adgas worker who is originally from Pakistan but has been living in Abu Dhabi for 18 years, pays for parking outside his Hamdan Street office and lives 400 metres up the road, where parking is free. He says he appreciates being able to find a parking spot right outside his office door. "Before, I would spend as much as an hour looking for a space," Mr Khan says. "But I think Dh3 is too much; maybe Dh2 an hour would be worth paying to get a car park. I work on Das island, near Qatar, three days on and two days off, and when I'm here I spend between Dh15 and Dh20 a day on parking."

He says the benefits don't extend to the streets around his home, which are now inundated with motorists who previously parked in the paid parking areas and are now looking for spaces further out to avoid paying fees "It was difficult to get a spot there before, but now it's a nightmare," he says. "Our family life is disturbed because of the parking problem. People can't visit us and we can't go out, because when we come home it could take an hour or two to find another car space.

"If they introduced paid parking up there maybe it wouldn't be so bad," he says. "I look at the areas where they have paid parking and it's all neat and tidy." Mohammed Daher, who is from Lebanon, works in a falafel shop on Hamdan Street near a parking ticket vending machine. "I park over at Madinet Zayed, where the parking is free," Mr Daher said. "The meters are good for business, there are plenty of places now for people to park, but we have people coming in all the time wanting change. I tell the cashier not to give it to them, and they get angry. But most of them are already angry; they say Dh3 an hour is too much to pay."

Mr Daher said parking inspectors regularly patrol the area. "We see them give out lots of fines," he said Motorists who overstay their paid parking time are liable for a Dh100 fine, and those who park without a ticket face a fine of Dh200. Stiffer fines are imposed on motorists who park in an unsafe or careless manner. For example, drivers who take up two spaces are fined Dh300, and those parking on footpaths or blocking a car parked in a public car space face a penalty of Dh500.

But people visiting the area to shop or pay bills say the convenience of finding a space in which to park is well worth the few dirhams they put in the meter.  "I would rather spend money on parking than pay for the petrol used to drive around for an hour looking for a space," says Joseph Mueller, an engineer from Germany who lives and works in Khalifa City. "It certainly takes the stress out of coming to town."

Parking meters are currently operating in areas between Khalifa Street, Hamdan Street, Eastern Ring Road and Liwa Street, and sectors between Khalifa Street, Hamdan Street, Eastern Ring Road, and Bani Yas Street.