Paying to park may not solve the problem, say sceptical motorists

Drivers in Abu Dhabi will have to start paying for parking in some traffic-congested areas of the capital starting next month.

United Arab Emirates - Abu Dhabi - September 23rd, 2009:  Jumaa Saeed of Abu Dhabi in his car on Khalifa Street.  (Galen Clarke/The National)
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ABU DHABI // In a city where spending a half-hour to find a parking space has become routine for many, residents doubt that the introduction of paid parking will make their lives any easier. But beginning next month, they will find out for sure. That is when the Department of Transport will start using meters in the congested central business district. An exact date for the beginning of the pay-to-park scheme has not been set, but an announcement is expected in the coming week. In the first phase, drivers will have to pay to park along Hamdan Street between Fourth and Baniyas streets and on Sheikh Zayed the First Street near Airport Road. Multi-storey car parks, the redesign of existing spaces and park-and-ride facilities are all part of the Government's remedy to what has become an unbearable problem for residents such as Maher Wazir. About to run an errand at a nearby store, Mr Wazir, a civil engineer, is double-parked on Hamdan Street. "I have no choice," he says, gesturing at the congested road. "It's difficult to park in this city." He regularly parks his car far from his Gasco office and is sometimes forced to walk in the sweltering heat for more than 15 minutes. "Paid parking could help," said Mr Wazir, 45. But, he added, "the problem would benefit from projects phased in at different times." As Abu Dhabi's population grows, so too does the parking problem. The emirate has witnessed a surge in the number of registered vehicles, a figure that climbed 16 per cent between 2005 and 2008. Jum'aa Saeed, an employee at the Arabian Exchange on Hamdan Street, usually finds himself a parking spot on the Corniche. "It's impossible to move around in the early afternoon and after 7pm," he said. "Perhaps paid parking is better than nothing, but I don't like the idea that I have to pay." The DoT will charge motorists Dh3 an hour on the city's thoroughfares and Dh2 on other roads from 8am to 9pm, excluding holidays and Fridays; people eventually will be able to pay parking fees via their phones or smart cards. The fee for multi-storey garages will remain at Dh2. An employee with the DoT, Alexander, 45, leaves his home as early as possible to find a place to park next to his office, as the area's car park fills up quickly. "You can find space if you come early, at around 7am," he said. "But if you come on time, forget about it. The only short-term solution is to wake up early. It's not fair, there aren't many options." Police patrol the extensive car park, located near several banks and the DoT's offices in Marina al Bateen, regularly issuing fines. In the first half of 2009, police across the capital handed out 39,215 parking fines. The fine for abusing a parking space is Dh200 (plus three black points on a licence) and for parking in places designated for people with special needs it is Dh1,000 (and four black points). "The ideal solution would be to set by law that every newly constructed building includes underground parking," said Alexander, who declined to give his last name. "If residents will have to pay to park around their own building, there will be pandemonium and new problems." Additional reporting by Matthew Chung