DUBAI // The number of vehicles being abandoned on the streets and in the car parks of Dubai is on the increase, despite the worst of the economic crisis seemingly over.
A few years ago, when the financial crisis began to bite hard in the UAE, many debt-ridden expatriates cut their losses, abandoned their cars and headed to the airport.
The global depression may be easing, but one of the obvious signs of hard times is still evident - and is even on the rise.
Dubai Municipality figures for the first quarter of this year show 3,040 cars were abandoned across the emirate. This compares with 2,738 over the same period in 2011.
"Abandoned vehicles are scattered all over Dubai. Most are found in industrial areas," said Yaqoob Mohammed Al Ali, head of the specialised cleaning section at the Waste Management Department at Dubai Municipality.
"These vehicles not only take up parking spaces in residential and industrial areas, but they also create environmental issues like waste and garbage generation."
Photos of dumped convertible sports cars - some worth more than Dh200,000 - with roofs rotten away by exposure to the elements, interiors piled full of discarded coffee cups and other trash, were regularly shared between Facebook and Twitter users in the emirates.
Mr Al Ali is keen to avoid these unofficial rubbish bins, which attract stray cats and rodents, from springing up again.
Once a car is suspected of being abandoned by its owner, inspectors from Dubai Municipality place a warning notice on it for 15 days.
If the owner does not respond, the vehicle is then confiscated and taken to the scrapyard of the Contracts and Purchase Department in Al Qusais. The vehicle can be reclaimed for a Dh700 fee, but most just sit wasting away in the sun.
"A notification of violation is issued for 15 days, which gives time to verify whether the vehicle is truly abandoned," Mr Al Ali said.
He said his team had removed a variety of vehicles from Dubai's streets, including sports cars, saloons, four-wheel drives, motorbikes, lorries and even boats.
"We don't consider expensive or inexpensive vehicles while removing them - they are all abandoned," he said.
Mr Al Ali said it was difficult to explain the reasons behind the recent increase in vehicles being dumped, but he felt his department had become more efficient at locating and towing them away.
"Last year we did have a problem with one of our recovery vehicles so that might be a factor in the increase," he said.
The unit has since added a new recovery lorry to its ranks, bringing the total to three.
"I think there are a number of reasons people don't reclaim their cars," he said. "In many cases they are quite old and need repairing. Then the owners probably think it's not worth paying the Dh700 to have it reclaimed from the scrapyard."
Last year in Abu Dhabi, more than 400 abandoned vehicles went under the hammer in a public auction. Most of the cars were impounded after having been dumped at parking areas, on roadsides or in areas without "enclosures or fences".
It is not known if Dubai Municipality intends to operate a similar auction.
Unwanted vehicles quickly become an issue in the neighbourhoods they occupy, especially if they have been left in allocated parking spots or are dumped in full view of the community.
"I remember for what seemed like months we had a couple of cars parked on the bays on the main truck road through The Greens," said Amelia Francis, from the UK. "It was very inconvenient because the cars took up parking spaces and nobody seemed to be doing anything about it."
She contacted neighbourhood security and they were eventually removed.
"Many times these cars have been there so long that the tyres have lost air and they are caked in dust. Then it's only a matter of time before someone scribbles something offensive on the windscreen," she added.
It's an issue developers take seriously. A spokesman for Nakheel said when community management staff are made aware of abandoned cars they contact the relevant authorities.
"From the community management perspective, action would be taken if the vehicle disturbs the community or can form any hazard to the community in terms of illegal activities for example," the spokesman said.
The developer said that since 2009, approximately 170 cars had been reported abandoned in International City, 100 in Discovery Gardens and four on Palm Jumeirah.