ABU DHABI // Students rushed out of classes at Zayed University in a race to move their cars as news spread that a Mawaqif paid-parking scheme had suddenly come into effect.
Inspectors yesterday put tickets on dozens of cars parked on sand and in the middle or at the side of roads not marked by the Mawaqif blue and black kerbs.
"I've already fined 20 cars alone," said one Mawaqif officer at about 11.30am. "And there are about 10 more of us in the area."
Officers said they told the university at about 10am that the owners of all illegally parked vehicles would be fined Dh500.
Mawaqif announced last week that paid parking would be enforced in the area from Saturday, and the university posted notices to that effect on campus.
However, the sudden implementation surprised staff and students. University officials said they thought the scheme would not apply to their staff and students, given the short time left in the academic year and the university's plan to shift campus over the summer.
The new Mawaqif zone bound by Delma Street, Airport Road, Defence Road and Karama Street contains 1,674 managed parking bays. The university alone has nearly 3,000 students - 570 men and 2,400 women.
"There are more than 500 male students and all of us have cars," said Ibrahim al Kaabi, who is studying human resources. "Look around, tell me, where can we park? When Mawaqif wasn't enforced we already had a parking problem - now they're limiting us even further by not allowing us to park on the dirt or in empty spaces that don't block traffic."
Mr al Kaabi was one of the dozens who received a Dh500 fine. "If you're going to fine us for parking illegally, that's fair enough. But provide us with the solutions first," he said.
Faruok al Janaibi, who also received a ticket, said: "At least give us warning; you can't just start fining people all of a sudden.
"The parking is packed as it is. What should we do, park on top of each other? Tell me where there's a spot a reasonable distance from here and I'll park there."
As the university's final academic year at its current location comes to an end, it is preparing to move to a new campus in Khalifa City A.
"All we ask Mawaqif is to wait just one month - a single month for classes to end," said Mr al Janaibi, who commutes every day from Shahama. "Is that too much to ask?"
Students said that Mawaqif officers they approached said they were doing their job and ultimately the decision was up to the transport authorities.
"Students here were never provided with parking, and traffic authorities know we'll be shifting to a new campus," said Paul Abraham, the assistant dean of student life at the Zayed University women's campus. "It's shocking that they decided to do this at this point in time."
Most students live far from the university, in Shahama or Baniyas, Mr Abraham said, making it difficult to use alternative forms of transport or car-share.
University officials said they held talks with the Department of Transport [DoT] last summer about postponing the implementation of the scheme. The DoT agreed to wait four months, after which talks were not resumed, officials said.
They say they were given no formal notice about the implementation of paid parking, although Mawaqif placed notices in newspapers and posters appeared on campus before the week began.
Mawaqif officials said student and staff concerns had been relayed to the DoT, which was looking into the matter.