ABU DHABI // Chaudhry Khan had heeded the warnings that yesterday was the day Abu Dhabi would get serious about its parking woes. After three years of planning, almost as long since the first parking meters were installed on Hamdan Street, six days after the Mawaqif meters were switched on in an initial two-block section of central Abu Dhabi and now after the end of the brief amnesty intended to accustom the capital's motorists to the previously unknown concept of paying for parking, the 40-year-old transport worker from Pakistan walked up to the meter next to the parking space into which he had just manoeuvred his car.
He was advised that enforcement of metered parking, due to begin in the zone bounded by Hamdan, Khalifa, Liwa and Najda Streets, had been deferred. Parking wardens, whom he had expected to be issuing tickets for non-payers, were instead advising motorists that the amnesty would continue for a week or two more. "I tried to pay," he said. Just down the road at the Mawaqif service centre, Gordan Sofronijevic, 33, a Serbian civil engineer living within the metered zone, had turned up with the paperwork to get a resident's parking permit.
He, too, had heeded the blitz of publicity about the start of paid parking and wanted to pay the Dh800 (US$220) annual fee to park near his apartment. Instead he was told that the residents' permits were not ready and that the amnesty would continue until they were. Instead of getting to submit his paperwork for processing, as a Department of Transport spokesman said was supposed to happen, he was asked to add his name and mobile phone number to the list in an old desk diary the staff were using, with a promise that they would call when the permits were available.
The list of names and phone numbers of those who had already done so ran to 23 pages in the A4 diary. But Mr Sofronijevic said the publicity blitz had already begun to have an impact on the notoriously congested parking in the area. He had heard about the parking meter scheme from a colleague, from a leaflet dropped at the door of his apartment and from reading The National. He said people preferred to park near their apartments and not in underground car parks, which he said he had never seen full and used himself only on the rare occasions he could not park near his apartment.
Since the metered parking was announced, he said he had noticed a "slight difference" in the parking situation in his area, which he attributed to more people using the underground car parks. Out on the street, Jessie Suelto, 33, an IT worker from the Philippines who works at a building in the metered zone but does not live in the area, was unaware of the plan for parking charges. He was surprised when told that the car space he had just occupied in a slip road parallel to Hamdan Street was designated as premium parking and would cost Dh3 an hour. "In Dubai, where I used to live, it was one dirham an hour," he said. "In Abu Dhabi, all the expenses are rising up."
Given the foreignness of metered parking and the proportion of the population who had not yet heard about the scheme, a spokesman the Department of Transport, said the department had opted to defer enforcement of parking tickets. It was all part of the "soft enforcement" policy to allow the residents of the densely populated area the chance to get used to the idea, the spokesman said. Eventually, the plan is to extend the metered zone across the more densely populated sections of the city.