ABU DHABI // Joe Lynch, a 75-year-old retiree from Canada, will not be able to take advantage of the 135 prime parking spots in the capital now reserved for women. But he is pleased with the Department of Transport decision, nonetheless, for the sake of his 30-year-old daughter.
"A lot of things can happen in these underground parks," Mr Lynch said. "I've seen it in other countries. "It can be very dark down there." Responding to concerns raised by women about often poorly lit underground parking structures, the Emirate's transport department has set aside women-only spaces in six multi-storey car parks around the capital. The spaces were marked last weekend by a slip of white paper warning of new penalties for males seeking easy parking spots close to elevators and entrances.
It stated: "Dear members, It is a parking offence to park in the ladies parking section." However, clear new signs will be installed in the lots soon, the Emirate's transport department said. Most of the parking spaces are close to exits allowing women to enter and leave the lot quickly and safely. The spaces have been allocated in the car park behind the Liwa Centre, on the Corniche, behind the Zakher Hotel, behind the Ministry of Health on Liwa Street and behind Al Noor hospital.
"This is applied for several reasons, mainly concerning females' security and safety," the department said in a statement. "A request from ladies was raised about the issue and was taken into consideration." Details about the reserved spaces, including the penalties if men park in them, are to be released in the coming weeks. Residents and local car-park workers said they supported the new spaces.
"I think it's a great idea," said Huda Tabbaa, 27, a teacher from Syria. "Especially if you have babies, you need to find parking fast," she said while restraining her one-year-old son. "I'm really happy about [the spaces]," said Sarah Dajani, 32, a receptionist from the UK, shortly after parking in one of the reserved spots. "I've never had any problems here with safety, but it can get dark at night."
Mohammed Khair, the supervisor at the lot near the Zakher Hotel said 15 spaces had been set aside for women near the elevators. The new spaces did not affect handicapped parking. "If 100 ladies come in, there will still be plenty of spaces," he said, adding that the system was not compulsory, and women can park anywhere if they choose. He also said he had received no complaints from men about premium places being reserved.
A security guard at the garage said the spots would be particularly beneficial for larger women as the lifts tend to break down. "Then it's a big problem," said Manoj Chaulakkuttiyl. The spaces are being reserved amid a wider campaign to reform the capital's parking system. Under the transport department's Mawaqif meter system, sections of the city core are now charging fees which, in conjunction with stricter enforcement, are intended to discourage illegal parking practices such as leaving vehicles in the middle of the road, or along kerbs.
Drivers must now pay between Dh2 and Dh3 per hour or buy Dh800 annual residents' passes to use one of the 75,000 spaces being introduced over the next two-and-a-half years. The system has received mixed reviews from residents and local workers. The section governed by Mawaqif is now nearly empty during the daytime and quickly fills to capacity at night, when parking is still free. Meanwhile, in the surrounding areas, workers have said it now takes even longer to find legitimate parking spaces.
Paid parking is being expanded to cover 19 sectors of the city by the end of the year. The Emirate's transport department said since Mawaqif was introduced in October, underground parking lots have noted a 25 per cent increase in use. email@example.com