Nowhere to park despite new zones

Residents outside paid zones in Abu Dhabi say those trying to avoid fees are taking their spaces, causing overcrowding on the side streets.

December 31, 2009 / Abu Dhabi / (Rich-Joseph Facun / The National) Enas Saeed (CQ), an employee of Salem Travel on Hamden Street, says she has to arrive to work earlier than usual in order to find a parking place since the paid parking zones have been instituted on Khalifa Street, photographed Thursday, December 31, 2009 in Abu Dhabi.  *** Local Caption ***  rjf-1231-paidparking003.jpg

ABU DHABI // Three months ago, the Department of Transport launched Mawaqif, a parking management system, in an attempt to ease the chronic parking shortages in the centre of the capital. But while a system of paid zones seems to have partly eased parking woes in theareas where they are applied, residents just outside the zones are complaining that they are finding it increasingly difficult to park their cars. The spaces, they say, are being taken by people trying to avoid paying for parking.

Mohammad Qamar, a 53-year old Bangladeshi who lives in a building outside the paid parking area on Khalifa Street, said he rarely finds a parking spot in his own block. He has spent up to 20 minutes looking for parking near his building since the parking meters came online, he said. "People from adjacent blocks have started parking their cars in this block because they need to pay to park around their own buildings. There is no parking even during the daytime." he said.

"And at night, there are no available spaces. So I must park my car in the paid zone and remove it before 8am to avoid the charges." BP, a 36-year-old financial controller from Hungary, said he had experienced similar problems. "The parking situation in the block has become disastrous," he said. "People double park so often that even the side streets have become unusable." He said he rented a spot in the underground parking structure behind Liwa Centre, which costs Dh1,050 (US$285) for a three-month contract.

Mawaqif requires drivers to pay Dh2-3 per hour, or Dh15 per day, for a parking spot in the area bounded by Hamdan, Khalifa, Liwa and Najda streets. Residents who live within the paid zones can buy an annual resident parking permit for Dh800, which allows them to park near their homes without having to pay daily fees. However, most drivers, especially those who need to park for an extended period of time, think the hourly rates are too steep, and therefore look for spots outside the paid zone.

Enas Saeed, a 34-year-old Jordanian who works at a travel agency on Hamdan Street, said she could not afford to park within the area because of the new fees. "I calculated that the scheme costs me more than Dh500 a month in extra charges. I cannot afford to pay that much," she said. "But I have no other way to get to work other than driving here. "So now, I spend at least half an hour every morning searching for a parking spot in the areas where parking is not yet paid."

Dorothy Cleaves, a 65-year-old from the United States, said: "I do not know how people with low-level incomes will manage the charges. It must be hard for them, I imagine." One of the major complaints from people who live in the paid zones is that the resident permit does not guarantee the availability of a parking spot. "I don't think Dh800 is too much for an annual permit," said Maysoon Fares, a 30-year-old Syrian housewife who lives on Hamdan Street. "But sometimes my husband still cannot find parking, and must park in a different block. What is the use then?"

However, the new scheme has its advocates, who think it will ease congestion in the capital and force people to adopt travel options that are environmentally friendly. In addition, those who come from countries with similar parking management schemes seem to favour the changes, and think that the general public will slowly get used to paying for their parking. Innes Campbell, 44, works at Faithful+Gould and thinks the scheme will ease traffic congestion considerably. "Personally, I think the rates are entirely reasonable. We pay a lot more to park our cars in the UK anyway. Besides, this move will encourage people to leave their vehicles at home. Also, if the public transport infrastructure is developed further, congestion will finally be eased."

Others were similarly hopeful that the Mawaqif initiative might eventually reduce, if not eliminate, the acute parking problems in Abu Dhabi and diminish the misuse of parking spaces. "I was fined heftily by the authorities for parking illegally outside the paid parking zone, so I prefer to park correctly now," said Rosariojoy Camus, who works at the Union National Bank. "I think when all areas have paid parking and people have been educated about the scheme, they will eventually get used to paying the rates. And this should make things easier in terms of parking for all of us."

One thing most can agree on is the urgent need for a solution to the parking problem, and that more parking spaces must be provided to that end. Vehicle owners have also called for companies to pay employees a parking allowance so that they can afford to park near work. According to the Mawaqif website, there are eight more stages until the parking initiative is fully implemented next year. Residents are looking ahead and hoping the Department of Transport will address their grievances while working to establish a parking management solution that will put the capital on par with other major cities.