x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Mawaqif could use more explanation

Abu Dhabi's parking-payment system, Mawaqif, has few friends because drivers see no benefits to balance the unwelcome fee

Few words raise blood pressure in Abu Dhabi quite as dramatically as "Mawaqif". The capital's paid-parking system, less than two years old and still expanding, has upset a lot of people, to judge by our letters-to-the-editor files and the anecdotal accounts that every driver seems to have.

Part of this resentment is natural and inevitable. All over the world, drivers want to park quickly, near their destinations, and cheaply; anything that interferes with this ideal can feel like an injustice.

What makes Mawaqif exceptionally irksome is that people expected it to improve the parking situation: you have to pay Dh800 for a permit but would at least be able to get a spot, people presumed.

But that was never guaranteed, and in many areas the system has improved nothing so far, except government revenue. In a letter to the editor last month, one reader of The National expressed the frustration this way: "We pay for parking permits when parking isn't guaranteed and often not available. We … drive around in circles until someone leaves." Clearly, Mawaqif could do better at explaining what it is doing, and why.

Also, anything that makes car use more expensive and more difficult - or both - absolutely needs to be accompanied by corresponding improvements in public transit. That is coming: Abu Dhabi plans to double its bus fleet to 1,360 vehicles by year-end, greatly increasing the number of bus routes and the frequency of service.

That change, plus an extra 280 air-conditioned bus shelters (with, we hope, more reliable equipment than some of the existing shelters) will before long offer many people a practical alternative to private cars.

But in the car culture the bus is not for everyone, even in the cooler months. Parking problems will not go away even when all those extra buses are on the road, and so challenges remain for Mawaqif.

Part of the problem seems to be in enforcement: readers complain that unauthorised parkers are too rarely towed or fined. Meanwhile even permit-holders are fined Dh500 and towed if they park in sandy unpaved areas, as they make a natural attempt to increase the supply of spots. (That policy, in particular, needs to be explained.)

Parking control systems are never loved. But people will tolerate a regimen that seems logical, is well-explained, and is sensibly enforced.