x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Permits-on-wheels service spares the less mobile a trip

Al Ain Municipality begins a mobile service to reach those who have difficulty getting to the civic offices.

Mohammed Salem al Dhaheri, right, from Al Ain Municipality, helps Ali Saeed at his home.
Mohammed Salem al Dhaheri, right, from Al Ain Municipality, helps Ali Saeed at his home.

AL AIN // Ali Saeed needs a new driveway. To apply for the proper permits, he has to arrange for a ride to the municipality headquarters and find someone to help him with his wheelchair. As complicated as it is to navigate the bureaucracy when one is able-bodied, it is even more difficult for someone who is 80 years old and blind.

Although he has six sons, one of whom would normally be able to help him, they all work outside Al Ain during the week. Last week, the municipality created a mobile services programme to address the needs of people like Mr Saeed. It comes in the form of a Toyota RAV4 equipped with a laptop, scanner, printer and municipality stamp everything a municipality employee needs to carry out his job. "It's as if you are at the municipality counter requesting services, but instead of being indoors at the municipality headquarters, you are in the comfort of your own home," said Salem al Amimi, 30, the manager of the community services division.

Land mapping, land ownership certificates and building permits are some of the services the unit provides. There is no fee beyond the usual charges. The mobile services are not available to everyone. They are designed for those who, due to physical or social limitations, cannot visit the municipality's headquarters on Hamdan bin Mohammed Street. Last week, Mr Saeed became the first customer. He called 993, the emergency and customer service number, after hearing about the programme through the media.

When Mohammed Salem al Dhaheri, 34, the head of the operations service section, pulled up in his white SUV with the municipal logo emblazoned on the side, he was met by Mrs Saeed and ushered into the house. Ten minutes later, Mr Saeed had a permit to build his new driveway. Over coffee and dates in his family room, Mr Saeed expressed his appreciation. "Thank you, my son," he said. "I've been hoping for a service like this for a long time. I wish other government agencies had such a service."

Mr al Dhaheri chatted with Mr Saeed and learned of the colourful life the former soldier lived, and about his time serving under the British forces in Ras al Khaimah from 1952 to 1958. Mr Saeed was a policeman for the Abu Dhabi and Al Ain forces for 35 years. Mr al Dhaheri, who oversees the mobile services unit, said bringing services to the elderly and those with special needs was a humbling experience. "Mr Saeed has served his country for so many years," he said. "For us to be able to serve him is an honour."

The programme was created in response to queries from special needs groups, among others. "They often complained that getting from the parking lot to the municipality building was a challenge," Mr al Dhaheri said. A customer survey conducted by the municipality indicated a high number of complaints about insufficient parking. "Since the public were having problems finding parking and reaching the building, we figured that those with special needs had a particularly difficult time," Mr al Dhaheri said.

As demand for the service grows, more units may be added. It is currently available on weekdays between 7am and 3pm. There are hopes to expand the service to seven days, until 10pm. No other municipality offers such a service, which, Mr al Dhaheri, said cost about Dh20,000 (US$5,500) a month to operate. "This service is well worth the expense and effort as the municipality gives customer service and community relations top priority," he said.

ealghalib@thenational.ae