ABU DHABI // The Department of Transport unveiled its long-awaited parking fees yesterday, announcing that from October it would charge Dh3 an hour on main streets and Dh2 elsewhere. The parking meters will be in operation from 8am to 9pm except on Fridays and public holidays.
Multistorey car parks will cost Dh2 per hour. Annual permits for unlimited parking in residential areas will cost Dh800 for a first car and Dh1,200 for a second. The metered parking, which will start in three areas in the heart of the central business district, is the first element of the department's grand plan to remedy the capital's parking woes, first announced by Abu Dhabi Municipality more than two years ago.
"This is just the first step but we believe these measures will result in visible improvements by year end, with less congestion, fewer illegally parked vehicles and a better understanding among car owners of the need to park correctly," said Najib al Zarooni, director of parking for the department, at a press conference yesterday. Other elements of the plan include increasing the number of parking spaces and introducing park-and-ride options in some areas to encourage motorists to take buses from designated car parks.
Mr al Zarooni added that free-parking permits would be available for people with special needs. It remained unclear what the penalties would be for parking beyond the paid time, or in prohibited areas. The current fine for "abuse of a parking space" is Dh200 (US$55) and three black points, while parking in places designated for emergency vehicles and people with special needs is Dh1,000 and four black points.
Police handed out 39,215 fines for illegal parking in the first six months of this year. Last year, the British company NSL Services announced that it had won a contract to manage the parking programme. It said that after a transition period, during which warnings would be handed out instead of fines, a clamping and removal service would be introduced for repeat offenders. Mr al Zarooni said that the department would be responsible for managing enforcement.
He would not confirm NSL's continued role in the programme, although NSL officials attended the news conference. The announcement of the fee structure received mixed reactions from residents. "It's a lot," said Hazem Ali, a 26-year-old Emirati. However, Mr Ali said the charge would not make him consider public transport. "You need a car for personal stuff and you can't really take your family on the bus."
Assil Mashlah, 27, a Syrian patient service officer at Al Noor Hospital, said he did not drive but thought the fee might be a problem for patients. "We get 2,000 patients a day. Can you imagine for 2,000 patients paying Dh3 per hour every day?" Karen Lovatt, a banking employee, said the charges were not a surprise. "I'd expect to pay it, like in any other country. I don't think it's bad at all." But, like Mr Ali, she did not expect to use public transport.
"It's not widely available. It doesn't go to all parts of Abu Dhabi. There is no sophisticated network here yet." The number of registered vehicles in the emirate grew by 16 per cent a year between 2005 and 2008, and motorists can circle for up to half an hour trying to find a parking space along Hamdan Street; some resort to parking on pavements or double parking. "This sporadic parking is unhealthy and has had a negative effect," Mr al Zarooni said. "This is a comprehensive plan to handle the increased demand."
The department took over the programme last autumn and has been testing solar-powered meters between Hamdan Street and Capital Park over the summer in anticipation of launching the programme. Paid parking will be enforced in that area as well as near the corner of Airport Road on Sheikh Zayed the First Street. These were areas where paid parking could be easily implemented, Mr al Zarooni said. Two locations have been selected for multistorey underground car parks, one on Hamdan Street and another on Zayed the First Street. A tender for the structures will be issued in the fourth quarter of this year and construction will start in early 2010.
The management programme will be rolled out over time to 75,000 spaces in 43 sectors stretching from the Tourist Club area to Khaleej al Arabi Road and from Khalifa Street to Hazza Bin Zayed Street. An additional area stretches from Fourth Street to Al Karamah Street and from Hazza Bin Zayed Street to Al Saada Street. Mr al Zarooni said residents would be spared parking fees so long as their areas were not congested.
The department has already announced its intention of increasing the number of parking spaces in the short-term by building temporary steel parking structures and redesigning existing car parks. However, landlords who section off areas and try to charge people for parking there will be prosecuted under a proposed law expected to be passed in the months ahead, according to Khalid Hashim, executive director in the Land Transport Sector.
Details on where residents could acquire permits would be provided later, he said. The Abu Dhabi Government had previously announced that hire car companies and car dealerships, many of which monopolise public parking spaces, would be moved to locations outside the city to help ease the congestion. When asked about that plan yesterday, Mr al Zarooni said the department was working with the Urban Planning Council to bring it into force.