ABU DHABI // In the heart of the city, shiny new turquoise-blue parking meters were met with curious looks yesterday afternoon. "I just noticed those meters today," said Y Lee, 41, whose car was parked along with dozens of other vehicles in the middle of the road between two rows of cars. Mr Lee, originally from South Korea, and other motorists appeared surprised by the meters and unaware of the Department of Transport's plan to eventually manage 75,000 pay-to-park spaces on the island.
The department hopes everyone will know about the system by Saturday, when authorities will start fining drivers who ignore the meters or park in illegal spaces in parts of the city. The first area where the rules will be enforced runs from Liwa to Baniyas streets and from Hamdan to Khalifa streets. The area will have 75 meters in operation and 27 officers on patrol. Initially, officers will offer advice and pamphlets with details of the new parking programme, called Mawaqif, to educate motorists before enforcement begins in earnest.
The purpose of the meters, and the fines for those who ignore them, is to free up parking spaces and offer an incentive for using public transportation, said Najib al Zarooni, director of parking for the Department of Transport. "Our intention is to support public transport," Mr al Zarooni said. "To let people leave their vehicles and use other types of transportation in the near future." In the short term, he said, "we are expecting that people instead of using a parking bay inefficiently, they will use it efficiently" and move their vehicle to avoid a fine.
At 3pm yesterday, however, none of the parking officers, identifiable by their turquoise-blue vests, could be seen in the area. And the information pamphlets had not arrived at the department's customer service centre, which opened yesterday at Hamdan and Al Salam streets. Transport officials said officers would be out with pamphlets later yesterday, and starting at 8am today. Advertisements will spread information about the programme's hotline and website although the website, www.mawaqif.ae, was not live as of last night.
Government officials say the move to paid parking is vital for Abu Dhabi, where congestion has cost the economy Dh5 billion (US$1.36bn) a year, according to a report by the Department of Planning and Economy rin 2008. The number of registered vehicles has surged in recent years, including an increase of 16 per cent between 2005 and 2008. For residents, the problem is more down-to-earth: there is no place to put their vehicles when they are not in motion. Many were sceptical of the proposed solution.
"There is a lot of cars, what are they going to do? Is it really going to solve the crowding and the number of cars? Is this really going to help?" asked Ahmed Jalal, 32, of Jordan. Mr Jalal, an IT manager, is the type of motorist at whom the new laws are aimed. He has parked a broken-down 1984 Toyota Corolla behind Hamdan Street for five months. "Where shall I put it, now that I'm not using it?" he said. "I believe I will have to throw it out."
The new metered parking zones are defined by colour. Premium spaces off main streets are marked with blue-and-white stripes and cost Dh3 an hour. Drivers will be allowed to leave their car for up to four hours. Standard spots are marked with blue-and-black kerb paint and cost Dh2 an hour, up to a maximum of Dh15. Drivers will have 24 hours before they must move their car. Spaces in multi-storey car parks will cost Dh2 an hour.
The fees will be enforced from 8am to 9pm, every da except Fridays and public holidays. Motorists can pay with coins or by using a prepaid card that can be purchased at the customer service centre. The Government has said it will supply additional parking spaces where surveys show they are needed. Two multi-storey, automated car parks have been put out to tender, potentially adding 500 spaces on Salam Street near Hamdan and Sheikh Zayed the First streets by next year.
Officials also hope to introduce park-and-ride options in some other areas to encourage motorists to take buses from designated car parks. The entire pay parking programme should be in place in about two and a half years, officials said. The department chose the area to begin the programme because there are underground car parks providing about 1,000 spaces that were underutilised, Mr al Zarooni said. People see them as less desirable, and landlords sometimes charge up to Dh50,000 a year to use them.
"We know that illegal parking in these two sectors is almost 1,000 illegal vehicles, but available parking under a multi-storey car park is more than 1,000," he said. "So there is enough availability but people don't want to walk or the owner doesn't want to include it in their tenancy contract. They want to charge an extra amount, and people don't want to pay." Backed by a new law to be passed soon, Mr al Zarooni said, the parking programme will stamp out the practice of landlords charging tenants high rates to park.
Residents will be entitled to two parking permits, the first costing Dh800 and the second Dh1,200. Those also can be purchased from the service centre. At the customer service centre yesterday, parking for potential patrons was scarce. Inside, two clerks said they did not have specific information or pamphlets about fines, costs or violations. "Come back in maybe one week," one representative said.
* The National, with additional reporting by Jen Gerson For a further report on parking in Abu Dhabi visit www.thenational.ae/insidethenational