x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Let the parking beasts loose

I shudder even thinking of them right now. And I haven't even had to deal with them for a few years, living in a city that, up until a few months ago, had no regulations for parking.

In Toronto, Canada, where I used to call home, there are creatures more reviled than even the millions of filthy raccoons that roamed the back alleys, yards and streets of the city, much like Abu Dhabi's cats do. These creatures crept around not just at night, but right out during the day, at all hours, causing no end of frustration, consternation and even fear among the city's population.

These creatures were parking meter attendants and tow truck drivers. I shudder even thinking of them right now. And I haven't even had to deal with them for a few years, living in a city that, up until a few months ago, had no regulations for parking. Of course, Toronto, like almost all other major cities in the world, has draconian parking laws, mandating permits and pay meters for the right to park your car. In your own neighbourhood, parking on the street will cost you hundreds of dollars a year and, depending on where it is in the city, the penalty for no permit is stiff: if you're lucky, you'll get a fine of $60 (Dh220); if you're in other neighbourhoods, you could wake up and find your car gone, a victim of the city's tow trucks taking your car to an impound lot.

And popping into a shop or restaurant downtown is no better; you'd keep a sharp eye on your watch lest you be left with an equally steep fine if you were just a few minutes late. At some points of the day, if your car is on certain streets it's just outright towed. You can see where the fret and worries for drivers come from. When I first came to Abu Dhabi, I was horrified by the parking situation here. It seemed like a complete shambles, and really, it was. Its saving grace, which I came to appreciate, was the way in which drivers seemed to work together to not just find a place to put their car, but also to leave enough room for others to park or navigate around the tight streets. Well, this was what usually happened; I think everyone has been blocked in by a vehicle at least once. I have on more than one occasion actually hopped into a parked, idling car and moved it myself.

But Abu Dhabi is a growing city. If parking was bad two years ago, it's downright horrible now, and getting worse. It's affecting not just the sanity of residents, but their safety as well; as reported in The National, emergency personnel attending a fire in the Tourist Club in December were delayed by waiting for residents to move their cars that were blocking emergency trucks. Two people died in the tragedy.

It's time that something has to be done, and, thankfully, it's already started. Since October, the capital has initiated a parking meter programme in some of its most congested neighbourhoods, and tomorrow, it's scheduled to start enforcing the parking laws 24 hours a day. By the end of 2010, there will be 35,000 paid parking spaces in the downtown core. Of course, as reported in the Personal Finance section this weekend, reaction to the paid spots is mixed. Some are finding it easier to park, but many bristle at the idea of paying for something that, up until now, was free.

Yes, I bristle at the thought, too; I don't need something else to pay for here, especially fines. But - and I hate to say it - without these kinds of control, the anarchy that exists on our streets now will just spiral more and more out of control. With the growing population and more cars on the road, parking meter attendants and, perhaps eventually, tow truck drivers will be a more common sight around here. And it should be a welcome sight.

Don't get me wrong; I can fully appreciate what they will do for our city; but I probably still won't like them. motoring@thenational.ae