Meters needed to end parking issues

The introduction of parking meters in downtown Abu Dhabi has met with a predictable outcry in the parallel online universe.

Paid parking is not the end of the world. There. I said it. The introduction of parking meters in downtown Abu Dhabi has met with a predictable outcry in the parallel online universe. A Facebook group, called Anti-Mawaqif, is where people vent their frustrations at parking fines and point out to whoever might be reading in the blogosphere that Mawaqif, the Abu Dhabi parking programme, is not working.

Well, yes and no. Like most new systems, there are teething problems. I remember the outcry over Salik in Dubai in 2007 - but it soon became part of normal life in Dubai and the system for topping up Salik credit is simple. You even get a text message when you are down to your last Dh28 in credit.

The main gripe on the Anti-Mawaqif Facebook wall is unfair fines. Someone claimed he was fined for staying in a parking space three minutes longer than he should have, even though he had been told by a parking officer that they give motorists 10 minutes' grace. That does seem unreasonable on the part of the officer and it is up to the authorities to make sure officers are properly trained and encouraged to use common sense if someone has seriously tried to get back to their car in good time.

A woman claimed she went into a shop to get change for the parking meter and was fined, while, by her own admission, she left her baby in the car - surely the greater offence, but that is a different Air Bag for another time.

So there have been some common sense lapses by the parking officers, but given that I was once given a ticket for parking nose-to-kerb, rather than rear-to-kerb in Sydney - even though the sign was obscured by an overgrown tree - it is a fact of modern life that jobsworth parking officers operate everywhere.

If you wander around between Hamdan and Khalifa streets, near the new souq, it is clear what a difference paid parking makes - and how many people are reluctant to pay bargain parking fees.

As well as Dh2-per-hour meters, there is cheap parking at the new souq and in a multi-level underground car park where, unless you lose your ticket, the most you'll pay is Dh15. In Sydney, motorists can pay the equivalent of Dh21 per hour.

This neighbourhood used to be crammed, including the ubiquitous line of cars up the middle of the road, but now people only park in designated spaces. This is much better, especially if a fire engine or ambulance needs access.

For residents, it costs Dh800 per year for one residential parking permit and an extra Dh120 for a second car. Fair enough. If you have more than two cars, you should consider moving out of the inner city. Again, this is not a matter of "things being different in other countries". Inner-city residents of most places are generally discouraged from owning more than one car.

Then there are the fines, which start at Dh100 and go up to Dh1,000 for such anti-social violations as parking in handicapped spaces or fire hydrant zones and vandalising parking meters. Given that, in London, councils are considering upping fines from £70 (Dh410) to £120 (Dh704), Abu Dhabi is in line with the rest of the world when it comes to stamping out irresponsible parking.

Frankly, I look forward to parking meters in my neighbourhood - parking there is so bad that my other half sold his car so we would only have to worry about parking a single vehicle. Dh800 for a resident's permit is a small and reasonable price to pay for knowing that I won't have to play parking lotto every time I come home.