x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Parking is such sweet sorrow as Mawaqif continues its roll-out across Abu Dhabi

Congestion in parking areas is not the only issue the slim teal boxes with the solar-panel hats are tackling in the capital.

A parking lot the day before Mawaqif started to enforce parking laws on a lot near Muroor Road and 15th Street.
A parking lot the day before Mawaqif started to enforce parking laws on a lot near Muroor Road and 15th Street.

On an already warm Sunday morning, temperatures are rising but for reasons unrelated to the Arabian summer.

Drivers are discovering - by seeing Mawaqif inspectors in time if they are lucky and by receiving Dh500 fines if they are not - that paid parking has just been rolled out to several more areas in the capital.

It is a scene repeated near Spinneys supermarket in Khalidiya, near Sheikh Khalifa Medical City and in the Al Ittihad block south of 15th Street.

Those who live, work or shop in the area are discovering that previously free and effectively unregulated parking now costs money and is restricted to approved spaces.

That's bad news for those practised in what were once the standard Abu Dhabi techniques of parking down the middle of the road or double parking with a mobile phone number on the dashboard.

This latest salvo is an attempt to not just bring order to the capital's parking, but to tackle a wide range of urban issues, including overcrowded and illegal apartment sharing, and to improve access for firefighters and ambulance crews.

The majority of the most congested parts of Abu Dhabi now have paid parking, with a series of exceptions such as the block on the eastern side of Abu Dhabi bus station and almost everything west of Karama Street and south of Al Falah Street/Passport Road.

Teams of Mawaqif inspectors descended on the newly regulated areas this Sunday morning, more than six months after the kerbs were painted in the parking scheme's distinctive turquoise hue and futuristic-looking ticket machines installed.

In recent weeks, cars parked in the area have been subjected to a series of Mawaqif leaflets being slipped under their windscreen wipers, advising their owners of the need to apply for residents' parking permits.

None of the leaflets mentioned June 10 was the day it all began.

Even as Mawaqif inspectors were ticketing or towing illegally parked cars, the Mawaqif.ae website still made no mention of the newly regulated areas. Two days after enforcement began, the new areas remain excluded from the website's map of controlled parking sectors.

In Khalidiya, the new area is bounded by the Corniche and Electra/Khalidiya streets, stretching from Spinneys on 6th Street to the far side of the FNC building, with the exception of one area next to Khalidiya police station.

Parking in the area should not be a problem, because of a huge car park just off the Corniche. Yet as the Mawaqif rules took effect in the area, the car park was at least 90 per cent empty.

But just a few hundred metres away behind Spinneys, Mawaqif inspectors were issuing dozens of tickets - many for Dh500 - and by mid-morning had already towed four illegally parked cars.

On a curve of road in the car park, marked with yellow and grey paint to signify no parking, two cars left there because of convenient access to Spinneys were sporting Dh300 fines.

There was room for another car to park on the kerb but a Mawaqif inspector continually had to move along cars that tried to park there. (An inspector could earn his pay several times over simply by setting up a deckchair and ticketing the steady procession of drivers who parked in that spot.)

Near the police station, cars were parked in a line in the middle of the road. As the Mawaqif inspectors went down the line issuing fines, several police officers emerged and moved their cars.

One of them was a Toyota sedan belonging to Helal Al Ghushi, who commutes here from his home in Al Ain. He was unimpressed with paid parking.

"I don't want to pay money because I'm coming here every day," he said. "I come from Al Ain every day. How can I pay this?"

But with the Mawaqif inspectors hovering, he moved his car into a legal space that had just been vacated by a Spinneys shopper.

Of the line of maybe 15 cars in the middle of the road, one - a Suzuki sedan - was chosen for towing. The Mawaqif inspector said it had been selected because several previous fines were registered against it.

Each time a car moved from the illegal centre line, another arrived to take its place.

A police cadet saw the Mawaqif inspector and went to pay for parking time, putting the ticket on the dashboard of his Toyota Land Cruiser, parked in the centre of the road.

"I have to go to work," he said, as he headed into the police station.

One of the Mawaqif inspectors looked at the Land Cruiser and said its owner should be fined, just like the others.

Closer to Spinneys, a 7-series BMW was double parked, blocking two cars parked in legitimate spaces while a well-dressed young woman sat in the passenger seat.

As the Mawaqif inspector told the woman she had to move the car to a legal space, the woman responded with smiles and laughter that failed to dissuade the inspector. The woman drove off, her face now scowling.

Nearby, Melissa de Grazia was emerging from Spinneys. Like most people, she was in a legitimate car park but had not paid to be there and had not heard that Mawaqif was starting.

She is one of the flood of Italians who have moved to the UAE, escaping the economic fallout of the euro-zone crisis, and is not against the idea of paid parking bringing order to the area.

"I think maybe it will be better," Ms de Grazia said.

Across town in Al Ittihad neighbourhood, bounded by 15th and 17th Streets between Airport and Muroor, similar teams of Mawaqif inspectors were issuing dozens of tickets.

But cars parked in the middle of the road here were being fined Dh300 instead of the Dh500 imposed on those in Khalidiya.

The arrival of inspectors here also caused a frisson of activity as word passed around that drivers had to move their cars or be hit by significant fines.

By the middle of the day, almost all of the illegally parked cars had been moved, either into legitimate spaces or moved outside of the Mawaqif zone.

The departure of the hundreds of used cars that dominated the parking on the slip road fronting Airport Road means the area now has adequate parking.

But in the next block further out, near the intersection of Al Saada and Airport Roads, the parking was as bad as anywhere in the capital, with a double line of illegally parked cars down the middle of the backstreets making the carriageway almost impossible to navigate.

A fire engine would not be able to make its way along the street if there were a blaze.

And that is part of the point of Mawaqif.

The sector of controlled parking in the Tourist Club area, which came under Mawaqif enforcement on May 3, had been more controversial because the number of cars outnumbered the legal spaces.

The number of those spaces was based on a tally of legal residents, and because the area is notorious for illegally overcrowded shared flats, demand far outweighs supply.

Mawaqif management is unapologetic about this. The parking rules are intended to pressure illegal dwellers to move out to places such as Khalifa City A or Mussaffah.

But that is cold comfort for the legal residents who are learning their annual parking permits - Dh800 for the first car, Dh1,200 for the second, with only two allocated to each legal home - are no more than a licence to hunt rather than the guarantee of a parking space.

In Khalidiya and Al Ittihad, that is less of an issue because there are sufficient parking spaces in the vicinity.

By the second day of enforcement, there were only a handful of illegally parked cars on the entire Al Ittihad block.

The lesson might be a painful one financially but it is bringing order to the city's streets.

jhenzell@thenational.ae