ABU DHABI // From Saturday, motorists will have to pay to park in most areas between a section of the Corniche and Al Falah Street.
Mawaqif parking meters have been periodically switched on block by block throughout 2010, with metered spaces now numbering more than 20,000.
The Department of Transport's aim was to bring order to the capital's often chaotic parking, but some residents complain the scheme has made matters worse.
Olivia Conneely lives in Khalidiyah and paid Dh2,000 for two parking permits in October. She said the plan is flawed, because it has vastly reduced the number of parking spaces available. It used to be that most drivers parked illegally, along kerbs and on in the middle of the road. If they continue to do that from 2011 they face a Dh500 fine.
After 7.30pm, said Mrs Conneely, there is no parking within walking distance of her flat. She has already been fined for parking on a kerb, and is concerned she is going to face daily fines.
"By outlawing these illegal spaces, the Department of Transport has effectively reduced the parking by 60 per cent," Mrs Conneely said.
"I live in a mainly residential area and unfortunately there has not been a 60 per cent reduction in residents."
Noam Franklin lives on Najda Street near Elektra, an area densely populated with high-rise buildings. "Parking at my place over the past year has been difficult, but not too bad," he said.
Since paid parking started six weeks ago, it takes him more than an hour to find a spot.
"If you come to my neighbourhood after 6.30pm, you will see people just driving in circles," he said. He calculates that there are perhaps enough spaces for a third of the residents on his block.
Mawaqif insisted there were enough spaces. "We know how many permits we issue, how much parking is available and how many cars were parking there illegally before," said Najib al Zarooni, Mawaqif's general manager.
Paid parking is in place in 21 sectors, and the plan calls for paid parking in 43 of the city's 114 sectors. It is unclear how much of the island this will encompass.
The focus so far has been on areas with tower blocks. In low-rise areas, paid parking will not be introduced as quickly, if at all.
To address the complaints of people like Mrs Conneely and Mr Franklin, Mawaqif introduced residents' permits. In some areas, only the owners of these permits are allowed to park in the evenings. However, the permits are limited to two per household.
Mr Franklin shares his flat with another bachelor. As a result, his flatmate cannot apply for a resident's permit. Mr al Zarooni said the restriction was a deliberate effort to discourage "illegal residence sharing".
But some have found themselves unable to get a permit despite living with a group of people legally.
Like many single Arabs, Sabine Chedid lives with her parents and sister. Her sister "has to pay Dh15 a day, because we're only allowed two cars", she said. "They've simply added another problem to a problem we have."
Ms Chedid has been forced to park several blocks away and walk home in the dark, something that makes her uncomfortable as a woman. She now prefers to leave her car in a space in front of her flat, and take taxis everywhere.
Ibrahim Yousef Ramel, the chief executive of Saaed, a traffic company contracted by Abu Dhabi, blamed drivers from outside the Mawaqif areas who come in to park after enforcement stops at 9pm. "This problem will be eliminated if all areas are covered with enforcement," he said.
The Department of Transport, of which Mawaqif is a subsidiary, stated last month that the city centre needs an extra 20,000 parking spaces, more than half of them in the Tourist Club.
To alleviate this, temporary car parks will be built in some of the few remaining vacant spaces in Khalidiyah and the Tourist Club, and two automated car parks are planned for the Adnoc on Salam Street and in the Tourist Club near the Abu Dhabi Commercial Properties building on Al Falah Street. The first of these should be ready by next summer.
That is not soon enough for Ms Chedid, who complained: "You charge us an arm and a leg for parking, and then you don't guarantee parking?"