x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Malls try to ease sting of parking fees

Mall of the Emirates and Deira City Centre try to explain new charges designed to discourage park and ride.

The owner of Mall of the Emirates says the fees are a necessary trade-off.
The owner of Mall of the Emirates says the fees are a necessary trade-off.

DUBAI // Two of Dubai's most popular malls yesterday explained the charges that they will impose on motorists for using their car parks. From September 10, a day after the scheduled opening of the Metro system's Red Line, Mall of the Emirates and Deira City Centre will each begin charging customers a fee starting at Dh20 an hour after an initial free period.

The move comes amid concern that the Metro could unintentionally transform mall car parks into park-and-ride facilities, causing congestion and discouraging shoppers. Yet customers at Mall of the Emirates and Deira City Centre, both owned by Majid Al Futtaim Group (MAF), were concerned that the plan would curtail the popular habit of spending full days on weekends browsing, dining or watching movies in the malls.

Although acknowledging that the new fees may inconvenience shoppers, MAF described the move as a necessary trade-off. "It was very important for us to strike a balance between giving our customers easy access to free parking while ensuring our car parks at Mall of the Emirates and Deira City Centre do not become park-and-ride stops for Metro users," said Fareed Abdelrahman, the vice president of divisional asset management at MAF Properties, in a statement.

"With the Mall of the Emirates and Deira City Centre Metro stations so conveniently situated, there was the need for a parking management system to ensure parking remains accessible for our customers." Under the scheme, customers can park at both malls without paying a fee for up to three hours on weekdays and four on weekends. On weekdays, Dh20 will be charged for each additional hour after the first three; on weekends, Dh40 will be charged for the first hour after the four free hours, and Dh60 will be levied for the next hour.

The plan was based on research showing that, on average, 70 per cent of shoppers spend three hours or less in the malls during the week and four hours over the weekend, the MAF statement said. Noticeably absent from the scheme is a validation system, in which customers are rewarded with parking discounts or free parking after making purchases of a certain value. "Unlike other systems in place in Dubai, it is not dependent on how much you spend or what time of the day you visit, and the free parking actually lasts longer than the average amount of time spent by shoppers in both malls," Mr Abdelrahman said.

But customers would get an hour's extension of free parking on weekdays and weekends if they attended the malls' cinemas, the MAF statement said. There were mixed reactions to the decision yesterday, with some shoppers complaining about the extra expense while acknowledging a need to sort out the parking situation. Shopping at Deira City Centre with his family yesterday, Usman Musa, 26, originally from Pakistan, worried that the fees would deter customers. "I think it's a harsh idea, especially in this economy," said Mr Musa, who regularly uses the shopping centre.

He sympathised with those who were concerned about mall parking turning into virtual Metro car parks, but said it would have been better to take the decision after first observing the Metro's impact. "If the decision was backed by actual statistics about who parks at the mall, and they showed [that] the Metro people were using, then I'd be OK with it. But if they don't have [the statistics], and the mall's just trying to make money, I think it's a bad idea that will cause the mall to lose money in the long run."

For Raquel Carvalho, 33, a Portuguese national, a serious concern was the potential traffic chaos and confusion following the system's introduction. "You get to point where you just expect that," said Ms Carvalho, who visits the Mall of the Emirates three times a week. But the parking system's relatively simple design would significantly reduce the likelihood of such a scenario, said Iyad Barqawi, the contract manager at Kazarooni Company, the firm installing the system at both malls.

"At the main entrances, there will be ticket-dispensing machines and gate barriers. And the driver will have to stop his vehicle at the entry, collect the ticket," Mr Barqawi said. "When he pulls the ticket out, the barrier will open and allow him to go in. When you want to exit, you will go to the exit machine and use the same ticket." Starting on August 9, both malls will conduct a month-long test of the system during which customers who drive will go through all the steps of the process - but without paying.

Yet the biggest drawback may not be operational confusion but the impact that the fees could have on families, said Martina Venus, 31, a German national who occasionally shops at Mall of the Emirates. "For me, it's not a problem, but what about the Arab families who spend six hours at the mall, taking dinner, shopping, watching movies?" she said. "What else can you do in the summer but go to a mall and hang out?"

Saif bin Fahed, 52, an Emirati national and father of three young boys, said the fees would not prevent him from going to a mall. It was more a matter of which mall it would drive him to. "The parking is a big problem," Mr Fahed said as he strolled the corridors of Mall of the Emirates. "But there are many other opportunities elsewhere, like at Dubai Mall. We'll just go there." hnaylor@thenational.ae