AL AIN // For Salman Khan, 41, a Pakistani driver for an Emirati family, trips to Al Jimi Mall are a navigational headache that usually end in a telling off. He can never pick up his employer's wife and children fast enough, due to the ongoing gridlock in the car park. "I hate coming here because of the traffic," he said. "When Madam calls me to pick her up, she has to wait sometimes for 20 minutes until I reach her, which gets her angry. If she waits too long outside she goes back inside the mall and then I have to wait outside. That's when the police come and tell me to move on, so I have to circle around again and that takes even more time, and Madam gets even more angry and then I get shouted at."
Traffic jams in the mall's car park are a constant source of frustration for local residents. Horns blare incessantly as drivers navigate around pedestrians with shopping carts, young men in luxury cars aimlessly cruise back and forth, and drivers illegally park while they dart into Starbucks or wait for somebody they are picking up. Two traffic police officers can be seen at the mall telling drivers not to wait in front of its entrance and issuing tickets to those who park illegally, but none can be seen directing traffic.
Shoppers and motorists say something must be done, but because the parking areas are considered public property controlled by Al Ain traffic police, mall management have been powerless to fix the problem. "We see the parking area as part of the mall, but police see it as a public street," Wael al Barbary, Al Jimi Mall's manager, said. "Managing the flow of traffic is the police's responsibility - that's what we have been told so we can't [use] security guards to control traffic."
Mr al Barbary believes the solution lies in opening another exit, to Hamdan bin Mohammed Street, but permission to do that has been denied. "We have applied for a permit with the municipality to create another exit, but have been turned down," he said. The municipality said it was aware of the problem but added that the mall's location on one of the main feeder routes to Abu Dhabi meant a further exit was not "the safest option for road users".
Al Ain traffic police were unavailable for comment. The congestion is not a problem for Khalfan, a 23-year-old Emirati. He likes to drive back and forth in the mall's car park in his father's Bentley, and explains that the slow pace helps in his search for a wife. "I enjoy the traffic, it lets me be seen," he said, laughing. "When a group of women are waiting to cross, I stop and courteously usher them to cross in front of me. For just a brief moment, I get a smile and a thank you."
Khalfan is not worried that police will trouble him. "There is no crime in cruising," he said. Mr Khan, however, believes the cruisers are part of the problem and should be dealt with. "If a car goes by more than twice or three times, the police should tell the driver to leave," Mr. Khan said. "That will help reduce the traffic." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org